It has been on my bucket list to join the National Cartoonists Society.
This is despite the fact that my friends and colleagues think I’m crazy for it. They don’t see the point. They don’t understand why I care about that group of people. They don’t understand what the desire is or what I feel it has to offer me.
The NCS, or the National Cartoonists Society, started in 1946 and became a group who’s charter was to promote the standards and cultural acceptance of cartooning as an art form. And as a kid growing up, admiring members of the NCS, the idea of one day joining their ranks was very inspiring.
Lately, I’m not sure what the NCS has done to effectively promote that charter. I feel like the luster has worn off of the syndicated comic strip. The internet and new media has utterly destroyed the idea of scarcity, a cornerstone of the syndicate business model. And I’m not sure how much cache these men and women carry any longer with the few daily features that do remain popular among readers. Honestly I think comic books, and these recent popular comic book movies have done more to promote the culture of cartooning into the mainstream than anything from the NCS.
That being said, joining has remained on my bucket list. For a couple of reasons.
First of all, there is a history there. An important history. The history of my artform. Cartooning. That’s real and important. It’s critical. It informed and inspired everything I do today. Every day. I wanted my name added to that one day. Kind of like at the end of Enemy Mine. I want to be a part of that record of history.
Second of all, I feel like I still have things to learn from the people involved. There are hundreds of years of combined cartooning talent inside that club. Brushwork, panel composition, writing gags, writing compelling characters. Certainly I could learn so much just from even one evening of talking to these men and women. Certainly.
And lastly, possibly the most silly reason, is that I know what it means to my dad. My dad, despite his efforts to assure me that he “gets” what my career is all about, still sees the NCS as important. I know he does. I know he wishes that I was a part of it a little bit. I think it would mean something to him if I got in. And it would mean a lot to me because of that.
I have, up to this point, not been admitted into the NCS for a myriad of reasons. My first application, sent in years ago, was rejected because I was not considered a “professional cartoonist.” Since then, I’ve had several members of the NCS offer to sponsor me, only to recant after broaching the subject with the NCS. A formed NCS president told a sponsor looking to get me in that I was “poison” and “a jerk.” That professionalism was as important as the amount of money or popularity I had.
I’ve made efforts. I’ve made apologies. I’ve met people and made friends. Last year during the San Diego Comicon I was invited to and attended an NCS meet up. During the evening of food and drinks I was told how important it was for young people like myself to attend the Reubens (the NCS annual party) and get to know people. And I even got a tentative invitation to come as a guest of a syndicate.
Today that invitation was regretfully redacted. I will not be attending this year’s Reubens. Again. And honestly, did I ever really think that was going to happen? That these old bastards were going to invite me to come talk to them and show me a modicum of professional respect? Jesus. Of course not. So you know what? I’m done. I’m really done. Something’s finally clicked and I honestly am over it. It’s just not worth it. I’m embarrassed that I held on to it for so long.
I mean, get this. I recently talked to a syndicated cartoonist about all this. He told me he felt the NCS needed young guys like me. And that it was really just a matter of convincing the powers that be. He suggested I write a brief or a proposal on how the NCS could determine which webcartoonists were worthy of joining. Said it would go a long way. And guess what? I actually considered doing it? I really did. I even started on a draft. God damn it, what was I thinking? I mean, here we are, well into the second decade of self-publishing on the net and I have to write a proposal explaining to these guys what a webcomic is and why it’s significant?! These people claim their charter is to promote the professional standards of cartooning. But now they can’t pick them out of a lineup?
You know, maybe it’s good that the NCS dies out. Maybe it’s important. Maybe that’s my contribution to the history of the medium that provides me my livelihood. That I belong not to the group the defined the artform, but the group the blew it up. That dismantled it and started over. Maybe that’s more important. Maybe that’s my ultimate contribution. Maybe I am the poison that a former NCS president insisted I am. That I’m the guy who championed the model that screwed everyone over. Forget the fact that none of that is true.
So I’m putting a check next to the NCS on my bucket list. I’m not erasing it or redacting it. I’m marking a line through it. Completed. Done. Accomplished. I can’t join the NCS, but maybe getting over that fact is just as important. I didn’t make the cut. I’ve dealt with it and I’ve moved on. Mark it off. Just so long as it’s not picking at the corner of my mind, wasting cycles that could be spent on more important endeavors.
Like Monday’s update.