Yesterday, the National Cartoonist Society announced the creation of a new division award: For best online comic strip. Essentially, a division award for webcomics.
Let's start with the positives: It's a great first step, in acknowledging a whole fleet of talented, professional cartoonists who are making their living in a non-traditional way. It's an acknowledgement that things are changing…and that great, great work is being done online. And it's to NCS President Tom Richmond's huge credit that he's taking the bull by the horns and trying to institute change, as there remains a very strong institutional bias in the NCS towards the newspaper world. I'm sure he's getting grief for instituting the change. Cartoonists, like all human beings, are pretty good at complainin'.
But it should be remembered that awards don't really matter. They don't. No award is life-changing, and no award makes you a better artist. You don't wake up the next day, after an award, and find that all your artistic insecurities or over-confidences have disappeared. You're the same artist, doing the same work, the next morning. But they are nice to get, and they are nice to give out. It's a kind thing to acknowledge hard work and late nights and the artistic drive to get better and better. That's a good thing. And in that vein, I'm happy to see this first step taken.
But it's just a first step. It's not perfect. And there will be complaints and bumps in the road along the way. Even I had complaints!
Tom kindly called me a few weeks back, to get my input on the award, and I was happy to chime in. My one big suggestion was (and is) to make it format-focused, and completely ignore distribution systems or business models. Have Penny Arcade compete with Cul de Sac for best comic strip. Put Achewood up against Pearls Before Swine. In my mind, this is the better path…both because:
A.) Distribution models shouldn't matter, at the end of the day. HBO *should* compete with NBC for awards, even though one is paid content and the other ad-supported, and
B.) Distribution models themselves are changing almost year-over-year at this point, so why constantly chase those delineations? And
C.) It just seems a better way to go, to compare apples-to-apples by format. Have all comics strips compete against all comic strips, the editorial cartoons against the editorial cartoons, and the single-panels against single-panels. Otherwise, we separate comics into two parallel worlds, one online, and one in print. It's like setting up separate music awards for "Best Album (on Vinyl)" and "Best Album (on CD).
But ultimately, the NCS took this as a first step, and I can accept it. Support it, in fact. I've worked in enough big organizations to know it's hard to turn a large ship. Things like this don't change overnight, and this will be a good dip of the toe into new waters. I imagine subsequent years will find more changes in how it's structured, especially as the NCS experiences a generational change. Ultimately, I think we'll have awards based on format and genre, like I suggested above…and in the meantime I'll just accept that it'll take a few years to get there.
So! To summarize: A good first step. Imperfect, and there'll be complainin' from all sides…but a good first step. And I support it.
PS: I won't be submitting Sheldon or Drive for nomination, by the way. Having given the NCS board my input on the new division award, I think it's only best I sit this one out. There are far more worthy strips, anyway. So it's not like I'm falling on my sword over here.