A few weeks ago, I mentioned that I had drawn a comic in honor of the 2013 Reuben Awards. For those of you who don’t follow comic strip culture, The Reuben Awards are the National Cartoonist Society’s annual awards for outstanding cartoonists. This year’s awards were held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. My town. Naturally, I had to get in on it.
I’m not an NCS member, but I figured that there would be a few events open to the public. As luck should have it, The Pittsburgh Toonseum (that’s “Cartoon Museum” in case you haven’t figured that out) announced that they would be holding some NCS events and they would be selling some VIP passes to the general public as well. I bought my ticket before they were even advertised.
My VIP pass entitled me to attend three different events on three different days: The opening of the Reuben Winner’s comic exhibit on Thursday, Cartoonist Karaoke on Friday, and the Comic Arts Festival on Sunday (The Saturday events and award ceremony were for members only.)
As there were three separate events, I will be writing about my experiences in three separate blog entries.
I’d like to thank the Pittsburgh Toonseum for hosting the event. I have never purchased a VIP pass to anything before, but the Toonseum gave me every penny’s worth and treated me like royalty.
Friday, May 24 – Cartoonist Karaoke

The second event I attended was a private karaoke party at the Tilden Lounge, a little place near the Toonseum. The NCS members had attended a full day of panels and meetings to prepare for Saturday’s big award show. The Karaoke party was their chance to unwind.

I was the second person to arrive. It turns out that the guests of honor were still finishing their last panel. They all showed up about twenty minutes after the doors opened. I was more than a little star-struck, but when the place was packed, I couldn’t recognize anyone. To be fair, everyone was wearing a name tag (many of the artist had sketched their own characters on their tags) but in a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd under night club lighting, reading name tags was not a possibility. And not everyone there was a cartoonist. There were relatives, publicists, significant others, and anyone else you would want to take to a night on the town.

For the first hour or so, I didn’t talk much. I just watched. It was enough just for me to be there. But through out the night, an odd thing kept happening to me. I was wearing my VIP pass (as per instructions) but none of the real guests seemed to know how one obtains a VIP pass. So every one assumed that the VIP’s were local prestige artists or museum contributors. No one knew that I had just saved my pennies and bought my way in. There was only one thing to do. I scribbled some of my characters on my VIP pass, and started acting like a real cartoonist.

And I had a few good conversations with some notable folks. I met Ryan Pagelow, who I think I annoyed by declaring my love for his discontinued projects while saying very little about his current ones. I met the man behind GoComics, who voiced some interest in running my comics (I’ll think about it.) I even toasted the event with Sandra Boyton’s son, Keith, a playwright and an absolute pleasure to talk to.

The evening grew late and I was pretty sure I had wrung every bit of fun out of the experience. Many of the artists had already gone back to their hotels to rest up for the big day tomorrow. Some of them had probably just moved on to quieter venues. But there was still enough of a crowd for a party. All night, people kept asking each other “Are you going to sing tonight?” It was sort of a running gag. Obviously, the outgoing artists needed no encouragement, while the shyer ones never had any intention of going anywhere never that stage. I was in that second category. Or so I thought until an unexpected thought entered my mind: “If you were to sing karaoke in front of the National Cartoonist Society, you would never be intimidated by anyone else ever again.”

Then I had to do it.

I picked out a song I knew and… I wasn’t great or good or even forgivable. In fact, I probably ruined music and for that I apologize. But sounding good and being impressive was not the point (actually, I think I did get a bit better the more a sang, but still not the point.) I set a new high bar for my extrovert self.

Okay, I don’t really believe that I’ll never be intimidated ever again, and I know I kind of cheated by waiting until the end of the evening when everyone had left or was distracted, but it was still a pretty bold move, so you be quiet and let me have this.
Plus signing in front of famous strangers did make it seem like less of a big deal to ask for their autographs the following Sunday.

Please return for the third and final installment of my NCS blog, which will run on Friday.