Separate But Equal

This week, the National Cartoonist Society announced the creation of a new division award: For best online comic strip.

NCS President Tom Richmond along with input from the rest of the NCS board have been working on this for a few months. And they have enlisted the advice of several sources, including myself in the process.

Eligibility for the award is tight. Your entry must be a comic strip (no single panels or long form comics), it must be at least weekly in update schedule, must have shown a consistent publication over the course of the calendar year, and…most importantly:

“Creator must earn the greater part of their living directly from cartooning* in order to adhere to the NCS criteria that creators under consideration must be either full members or eligible for full membership”

Compare this to the Harvey Awards, which have open voting and where an online comic can submit itself for any category in which the format is appropriate. Thus, Blind Ferret’s new comic “The Gutters” was able to be nominated for several categories including “best new series” and “special award for humor in comics.” The fact that The Gutters is distributed online and not in a comic book didn’t matter. The work was what was most important.

It’s unfortunate. The NCS is easily ten years behind the curve on this, possibly being the last entity on the planet who doesn’t grok webcomics. It’s 2012. Most of the more prominent webcomic creators have grown into micro-media companies, expanding into animation, feature length films and graphic novels and have stopped using the term webcomic completely. More and more content is moving from url based distribution to handheld distribution. And the NCS has just formed their first six-man committee to determine what a webcomic IS. And they’re making press-releases about it.

One of our more astute Webcomic.com members made a very salient point on this subject when he said “The NCS exists to support its membership, not cartooning as an industry.” And I couldn’t agree more. The NCS is placing prestige over prominence here.

Guigar and I have been discussing this subject at length over the phone. We both feel that this move is insult to injury. Brad and I each create a daily feature identical to the features created by syndicated comic strip artists. We do so to a point of being criticized by webcomic pundits who feel we’re too beholden to traditional formats. Yet we are not eligible for the division award for comic strip. Because there is no division award for comic strip. There are only awards for syndicated comic strip and, now, online comic strip.

Brad and I see this division award as kind of a kids table set up near the adult table. A pat on the head. Separate but equal is insulting to US. But that’s our personal hang up and other’s are free to disagree with us.

If Paul McSpadden, one guy, can figure out how to make the Harvey Awards successful and inclusive without compromising the integrity of the name Harvey Kurtzman, how can the entirety of the NCS not?

We certainly live in interesting times. And I wonder if an organization that takes 5-10 years to change the course of it’s heading is even compatible with a group of people who re-invent themselves every 6-12 months. And if not, what does that mean for the NCS?

Time will tell I guess.