This past weekend we attended the Reubens down in Las Vegas. Tycho could not make it but I went down with Robert and our ladies to see what it was all about. On Friday the girls hung out on the strip while Robert and I went to check out the panels. The first one we walked into was something like “how I got two million dollars in free advertising!” Robert and I sat down and almost immediately we were uncomfortable. I’m not going to say the guy’s name because the entire focus of his talk was how he is able to get free publicity all over the place. I’d rather not give him anymore since I think he is a shameless monster. He showed some videos of himself on various local morning news shows circa 1989 and explained that you should always be trying to tie yourself to local news events in order to get on tv. He told us all a story about how “excited” he was when Elizabeth Taylor died because his wife’s family had some photos of the actress as a young girl. He ran to the papers with these on the day she died and used them to promote his animation business. It was at this point that Robert and I stood up and walked out.
We took Gary Tyrrell of Fleen along with us as he had also had enough and we hit the casino. After a few hands of Pai Gow we returned for the panel with Dave Kellett about cartooning in the 21st century. I was disappointed to see that Dave was not alone on the panel. He was up there with two other guys who I had never heard of. I was told the plan was that each of them would speak for ten minutes and then open it up for questions. This is not what happened. Instead the first guy told us his life story for about twenty minutes, then the next guy was boring for ten and finally Dave had to rush through his bit about how webcomics actually work. The first panel I attended was disgusting but this one was just sad.
That’s a picture I took from my seat. Watching Dave try his best to explain how he makes money to these white haired old men was hard to watch. When iOS and Android came up I fully expected one of these old codgers to stand up and refuse to work with “robobots” before storming out. It was all great information but it was wasted on the audience. Dave’s talk was about taking ownership of your work and cutting out the middlemen but these guys just can’t or won’t do that. The two questions that got asked only proved it. One old man made his way to the mic and asked what the capital of West Virgina was. This got chuckles from the other fossils in the audience. Then a guy asked if you couldn’t just have your current book publisher convert all your material to ebooks. Dave was trying to throw these guys life preservers and they just laughed at him.
Robert and I decided to skip the panels the next day and play golf. I feel like this was a vast improvement. We all got dressed up and made our way back over around dinner time though for the awards ceremony.
This began with a meet and greet in which my friend Bill Amend did his best to introduce me to everyone he could. I met Cathy Guisewite, yes that Cathy. I also met two very cool writers from the Simpsons and Tom Richmond the president of the NCS. We were then taken into the dinning room and that is when Bill brought over Jim Davis. I’ve met a lot of people and I’m usually not too shaken up by celebrity but this got me. Jim said that he had heard of me from his son and proceeded to pull out his cell phone. He showed me a text message he had gotten that day from his son telling him that I was going to be at the dinner and that Jim should make it a point to find me. We talked a bit, shook hands, he hugged my wife and then he was off. I was standing there with Robert and he asked me if I was okay. I realized I was crying. That was Jim Davis. The reason I started drawing. My earliest influence. My first memories of liking anything are of liking Garfield. My first drawings were tracings from his books. He had just shaken my hand and complimented me on my work. I was overwhelmed.
Eventually I got my shit together and we all sat down and got ready for the awards to start. The online comic award was up first and while it didn’t go to Penny Arcade it did go to Jon Rosenberg who I think is a great guy and talented cartoonist. The rest of the awards drug on and a few of the old people around me started falling asleep. That’s not a joke either, the woman behind me was snoring away before we were even halfway through the awards. Of the dozen or so awards that were handed out, only maybe three people were actually there to receive their trophy. They had an Elvis impersonator step in on behalf of all the no shows. Towards the end he grabbed the award for best newspaper comic strip, held it up high and shouted “this is number nine! Thank y’all very much!”
I thought it was very cool that all three of the webcomic nominees (Penny Arcade, Scenes from a Multiverse, The Oatmeal) were in attendance. No matter who had won our category, there would have been a thrilled young cartoonist on stage beaming with pride and shaking with nerves. I know there was much debate about even allowing webcomics to attend and from what I hear there was even more grumbling afterwards. Many of them simply don’t think we belong alongside them. But if that night was any indication, I’d have to say that we cared more about those awards than 90% of the other artists nominated. So they can keep giving awards to Elvis impersonators because the animator or illustrator they nominated doesn’t give a shit. Or they can embrace webcomics and accept that we represent the future of their organization.
At the end of the night Stephen Silver came up to me. Stephen has been a huge influence on my work and I’m very lucky that I’ve been able to meet him and even work with him a few times over the years. He gave me a hug and told me that he considers me a hero. He told me that everything PA has accomplished is an inspiration to him and other artists. I hugged him back and told him he had no idea what that meant to me. Most people don’t get to meet their heroes. I met two of mine in one night. I went home that night replaying my conversations with Jim and Stephen in my head. What I was hoping for from the reubens was recognition from my heroes. I may not have won the trophy but I got what I was after.