Last Friday, June 13th, the Society of Illustrators hosted the first ever Comic and Cartoon Art Annual Opening Reception and Awards Ceremony. The night was full of friends- both new and old- who braved the torrential downpour and enjoyed some great food and drinks prepared by our very talented Chef Q!
We celebrated the winners with an Awards Ceremony and Presentation and heard some very moving and emotional acceptance speeches. There was a lot of warmth and support in the room, and it felt very special to be there and show our appreciation for comic and cartoon artists.
(pictured above: Ruben Bolling accepting a Gold Medal.)
This year’s Chair, Steven Guarnaccia, began the evening with some beautiful words that we wanted to share with you. I think Steven did a really wonderful job explaining this competition and exhibit, and why it is so important to us:
Greetings and welcome to the first annual awards ceremony for the SOI Comic and Cartoon Art Annual. It’s great to see so many new faces here tonight.
It’s a heady time for comics. They have, of course, long since left the basements and backrooms, and come in from the comics shops. University courses teach them as new forms of literature. Graphic novels, graphic memoirs and other long-form comics are regularly reviewed up front in the book pages of major periodicals, along with the traditional word-based novels and non-fiction, often without being called out as comics in the first place.
This has become so commonplace that it might do well to remember that not so long ago things were not thus. When I recently interviewed Arnold Roth, Al Jaffee and Mort Walker for the National Cartoonists Society, Mort reminisced about the controversy that attended his nomination for membership in the Society of Illustrators. At the time, illustrators looked down their noses at comic strip artists, just as fine artists were looking down their noses at illustrators. In fact, there was an even more finely grained system of prejudices at the time: gag cartoonists looked down on comic strip artists, comic strip artists looked down on comic book artists, and New Yorker cartoonists looked down on everyone.
The truth is, comics and illustration share a long history. Winsor McCay, one of the most illustrative of comics practitioners, was a poster artist and newspaper illustrator of journalistic and humorous subjects before he embarked on “Little Nemo in Slumberland”, the strip that secured his place in the comics pantheon. Crockett Johnson, Garrett Price, VIP, Arnold Roth, among others, kept one foot in each camp over the years.
The increased visual sophistication of contemporary comics is partly due to the incursion of illustrators into the comics field. One positive result of the recent stagnation of commissioned editorial illustration is that illustrators have been forced to look for creative and economic satisfaction beyond magazine and newspaper illustration. Many illustrators initiate their own projects, becoming visual storytellers in the process. The current fields of children’s books, animation and comics are the richer for this.
This, the first Society of Illustrators Comic and Cartoon Art Annual, is not meant to be an exhaustive survey of the field. Rather, it’s a snapshot of a moment. The work came from seasoned professionals and from fresh newcomers. In keeping with the spirit of the Society of Illustrators annual illustration competition, the work was submitted by the artists themselves, as well as by the publishers. This has made for a fresh pool of work to consider, and it introduced the jurors, and the field and public as well, to many terrific little-known artists. Many will surely go on to become future mainstays of comic-dom, just as we hope the Comic and Cartoon Art annual will become an important event on the comics calendar for years to come.
By the way, 40 pieces from the show will travel to colleges, galleries, museums and libraries around the country.
I want to thank the jurors who reviewed the work. They are a veritable who’s who of artists, editors and commentators from the world of comics, and their presence on the jury guaranteed the stature of this competition. You can find all of their illustrious names in the catalog. A note about the jurying: all of the long-form works were sent a month in advance to the jurors of that category, to read. All of the jurors in all of the categories then met in separate sessions here at the Society, over the course of a week, to review the works and discuss them with their fellow jurors. Lively dialogue ensued.
I want to thank Rutu Modan for creating the terrifically bizarre art for the poster, and Tara Jacoby for designing it, and the beautiful catalog of the show.
Special thanks must go to exhibitions director Kate Feirtag, the ever-undaunted, tireless organizer of all things competitions here at the Society. People often say, figuratively, about a colleague, “I couldn’t have done it without them.” But in this case it’s no figure of speech. There were innumerable moving parts in organizing this competition, and I literally could not have chaired this competition without Kate helping and guiding me every step of the way.
As always, a big thanks and hug to Anelle Miller, the director of the Society, who has opened up this place to more new ideas than Pope Francis has the Vatican.
I want to encourage you all to enter next years’ competition, and to spread the word. I’ll be chairing the annual again next year, this time with Bob Sikoryak as co-chair. Bob will then go on to chair the annual with a co-chair of his choosing the following year.