NCS Wants Your Income Statement Before Granting a Webcomic Reuben Award

The National Cartoonist Society, an august organization with a long history, has had some issues with some of its members coming to terms with webcomics, especially those that for many people have replaced the traditional newspaper comic strip.

The Reuben Award

Good news! They’ve announced that their Reuben Awards will be adding a webcomic category (via Heidi). The eligibility criteria for “Best Online Comic Strip” is as follows:

  • Comic-strip format only (no single panels, long-form narrative. etc.)
  • Must be web only publication (any syndication in print would make it eligible for the Best Syndicated Comic Strip Division)
  • Must be at least a weekly
  • Must have shown consistent publication based on determined time-schedule (i.e. it being a daily, twice-a-week, weekly, etc) over the course of the 2011 calendar year
  • Creator must earn the greater part of their living directly from the strip/property

Bad news! They’re freaking out over the idea that someone could be an excellent webcomic creator while having another job. I’m trying to think of any other award that demands to see your tax returns before determining your eligibility, and the only ones coming to mind are those that give out grants (and thus have a direct interest in your money situation). The NCS explains:

There are many challenges involved, the crux of which is separating those web-comics creators who are doing truly professional work from those who are just enthusiastic hobbyists. … The tricky part is the definition of “professional” with regards to web-comics/self-published work. The NCS awards are industry awards, not art awards. One of the criteria for consideration is that the creators be a professional cartoonist, and eligible for NCS membership (they do not have to BE members, but must be eligible for membership). Without independent verification (like a syndicate, editor or publisher who pays the cartoonist for their work) of a few criteria to that end, it’s difficult to separate the pros (i.e. those who are both fully committed to their craft for a career, and who make some substantial amount of income from it) from the hobbyists.

I guess. One might also conclude that the old school is having trouble dealing with a change in how cartoonists develop these days, and how the industry has morphed into something much less predictable in terms of income. At least with the “strip/property” phrasing, one doesn’t have to be specific about whether said income comes from books or t-shirts. If anyone is ruled out on this particular criterion, though, the arguments that result should be SPECtacular. Can you imagine what would happen if the Eisners starting wanting to look through tax returns? There are a significant number of recognized creators who don’t make a living wage from comics and survive based on spouses or family, yet we still call them professionals.

More good news! The screening committee has some very knowledgeable folks about webcomics on it, including Andrew Farago, Rick Marshall, and Gary Tyrrell.

Bad news! The whole committee is male.

Good news! The committee “will recommend for consideration anyone who did not submit but they feel both meet the criteria and are representative of the best online work,” which is a wonderful way to help ensure they really are looking at the best possible choices.

Better news! The group is open to improvement. They acknowledge, “It is bound to have some bugs which we will learn from and hopefully improve the process next year. The important thing is that efforts are being made to include work being done on-line in the NCS’s recognition of excellence in professional cartooning.” That’s a welcome attitude… even if the poster does get ticked off in the comments and wind up saying, “If your comments are of the “this is stupid, you guys are so backward/behind the times/why aren’t you doing it the way I want you to” variety… don’t bother,” so apparently their willingness to listen has a limit.

I look forward to seeing the final award, and I hope everyone who can submits their work.

Update: The improvement process has already begun, with a clarification made by the NCS changing the income language to

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.

So now you can be a print cartoonist who dabbles in webcomics and still win. I’m being snarky — it’s good to see them take positive steps to clarify what was a somewhat confusing requirement.

4 Responses to “NCS Wants Your Income Statement Before Granting a Webcomic Reuben Award”

  1. Ralf Haring Says:

    “The NCS awards are industry awards, not art awards.”

    Sounds like this is the part of their thinking they need to change. If what they would term “just an enthusiastic hobbyist” creates a better webcomic than someone “doing truly professional work”, then it’s kind of mindboggling that they’d prefer to give the award to the inferior work.

  2. Caanan Says:

    I’ll be submitting my own comic for consideration, but I do wonder if I’m eligible. On the one hand, I make the majority of my income through my comic, on the other hand… it’s practically nothing.

    I don’t have another job. My wife basically supports the both of us. I don’t earn enough money in a year to even pay my own rent for half of it, but it IS my job.

    So… does that make me professional, or not? I cut my own hair. I wear the same clothes every day like Donald Duck because I can’t afford to buy anything. (The last clothes I bought for myself was over a year ago, and that was two promotional tshirts for a convention.) So, I certainly don’t look (or feel) like a “professional”… but I’m certainly not “just an enthusiastic hobbyist” either.

  3. Johanna Says:

    This kind of dilemma is why income-based evaluations are so difficult. Why should you or anyone else be made to worry about your financial arrangements (so long as they’re working for you) just to get recognition?

    On another note, I’m also curious to see how closely the eventual winner resembles (or doesn’t) the classic newspaper strip style, since the final winner won’t be selected by the webcomics team, but by the overall group’s board.

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