So, rather than trying to send out a million emails (feels like I’ve already done so, but probably not really) dealing with the events of this past weekend (October 9-11, 2015) at the Greenville, SC meeting of the Southeast Chapter of the National Cartoonists Society–figured I’d just write a blog and then direct people to look at this when it’s done. Makes sense, right? Well, somewhat.
If you’re one of the SECNCS who was there, keep in mind that these are my impressions of the event–even though I’m chairman, these are not in any way intended to be official minutes. You may have gotten a different impression entirely–chances are, you did. If you’re one of the SECNCS who was NOT there, so sorry you missed the fun. If you are NOT an SECNCS person, then you’re welcome to read along and maybe get an idea of what makes cartoonists tick. If you like what you read then maybe you’ll be moved to join our inky little corner of the world. It’s all good.
Okay, so starting many months ago I began planning this event with the help of a lot of people. In particular, John “Shep” Sheppard, SEC vice chairman, and Tim “Mr. Ollie” Oliphant. In addition to those guys we had help from Steve Haynie (who really needs a nick-name that will stick), Tom Littlejohn, and Rex Gray–who all live in the Greenville area. I won’t bore you with the wearisome details other than to say that they are the kind of things that tend to take all the fun out of this sort of event up until the event actually happens.
But the event got planned, and not trying to give anything away here (spoiler warning!) everything came off very well–that is if people gushing about how great it was and how much fun they had is any indicator.
Here’s how it went down. I rolled into Greenville about 1:30 on Friday afternoon. I’d hoped to be there earlier, but a traffic jam at I-26 in Asheville (said “jam” is now something like that storm that has been raging on Jupiter for hundreds of years, just so you know) kept me behind schedule. So I missed lunch as we were scheduled to meet at the Greenville Children’s Hospital at 2:00 pm. So lunch for me was a granola bar and a bottle of water. Not bad as lunches go, but I’ve had better.
We (Stephanie Gladden-Miller, Greg Cravens, and I) were greeted warmly by staff volunteer, Morgan, and escorted to the Children’s Hospital activity room (Tim Oliphant and Steven Barr were able to join us a bit later and rounded out our group). We had a lot of fun drawing funny pictures of one another until the kids arrived and then we began drawing for them. Now I can’t go into a lot of detail here because of the privacy measures that the hospital asked us to observe–but we did have a high cartoonist to child ratio on Friday, as there were only 4 or 5 kids that felt up to the activity. Bless ’em, it’s tough being a kid who’s going through so much. So we were happy to shower those kids who could be there with lots of drawings, show them how to do some of their own and pass along some drawing kits to them (courtesy of Steven Barr who bailed us out with some of his kits when our official NCS kits didn’t arrive on time!)
After we were done there, in about an hour, we wandered back to the parking garage and headed over to the Embassy Suites Hotel. It was a lot grander than I’d imagined. To me it looked a lot like the hotel that Mel Brooks stayed at in “High Anxiety”, but nobody else mentioned that. Many of the group had already checked in, including my roommate for the weekend, Mr. Ollie. So I got my room key and went upstairs to see what the place looked like. Wow. Huge rooms. We got a sleeping room with two double beds and a “sitting room” that we could have used as an office! In fact, we probably should have.
Tim and I were able to hang out a while and catch up before heading downstairs to check out our meeting space for the next day–the “Columbia Room”. It was not yet set up for our group, but we found where it was so we could direct people there the next day.
We met a few of our group in the spacious lobby and enjoyed “happy hour” with free sodas and snack foods for a while. We talked with various other cartoonists as they arrived. Among these were Jack “Cass” Cassady and his wife, Brenda, and Shep showed up too. Pretty soon it was time to get people lined up for the hotel shuttle that would take them over to our Friday night dinner at Happy China–just a mile or so down Verdae Boulevard. But Mr. Ollie and I had a different task ahead and left it up to Shep to get people on board the shuttle–we had to go pick up Barbara Dale (our keynote speaker) at the GSP airport.
Now, I don’t want to say anything bad about Mr. Ollie but…(if you know Tim you’ll get that joke)…he’s a real neat nick sort of bachelor, so when he saw the condition of my own car with the remains of the clutter that usually abounds there he was pretty amused. I thought it was pretty clean myself. I had missed a large tablespoon that my wife, Karin, had left in the floorboard between the front seats. So I went into my, “look who’s car is so neat, Mr. Ollie, who doesn’t have any stray spoons in HIS car,” routine.
We traveled in an odd silence for a while after that. But then again GSP is only a few minutes away. I still like GSP as an airport because it doesn’t look like an airport. Tim mentioned that it looks a lot like a community college campus–and he’s right. You can’t see the flight line from the terminal at all because of a stand of trees all around that area. Unfortunately it seems that word has gotten out about GSP being “the international hub that feels like a little airport.” And so they’re expanding it. I’m afraid it will soon lose much of its charm. In fact it already has as you can no longer go upstairs to meet arrivals like just a year or so ago. Oh well.
Barbara’s flight was on time and we soon greeted her by the luggage claim on the main floor. Tim was primarily responsible for us being able to get Barbara, as they’d known each other for some time. It was the first meeting for Barbara and myself–and it was very pleasant. I went out to get my car from the parking garage while Tim helped Barb with her luggage.
In a few minutes I was able to repeat my “spoon in the car” routine for Barb (a much more receptive audience than some people already named) which put her at ease–we were nuts too!
We returned to Embassy Suites so that Barbara could check in and Tim could bow out of dinner gracefully (he does not handle soy well in any form). Then I drove Barb over to Happy China in time to meet the rest of the gang that were just beginning to have their drink orders filled (some were still contemplating what to eat). It was a good time. We had lots of good conversation–mostly good news, some bad, from the preceding year or so. Were all shocked to hear that Chris Schweizer had to be taken to the Atlanta hospital that evening (hope he’s doing better now, haven’t heard) when Stephanie got word via text. I’m not going to get this list right, but let me see–at the table besides Barb and me were: Shep, John Lotshaw, Vicky Smart, Stephanie Gladden-Miller, John Miller, James “Southpaw” Aikens, Tom Littlejohn, Rex and Val Gray, Cass and Brenda, John and Karen Rose, Mike and Karen Morgan and a couple more I think…sorry, too much soy sauce has blurred my memory.
Dinner was good. I had lemon chicken, broccoli, and rice. A new menu item for me–though Karin’s fixed a type of lemon chicken for me in the past, this was rather different than hers. I thought it was pretty filling. (Though I understand that some of our members snuck out to Steak n Shake without me around 1am when the Chinese food wore off!)
Back at the hotel everyone hung around the lobby for a while. My big moment was misdirecting everyone by gesturing with my left hand while saying “our meeting room is through the lobby and to the RIGHT.” Oops. Wrong right. Don’t pull this sort of thing with a room full of cartoonists–they will call you on it.
There was a lot of good-natured give and take. The thing about cartoonists is that we speak the same language! When we’re together–no matter how divergent our views on various matters–we get one another somehow. We compare notes on favorite movies, TV shows, foods, etc. all with a lot of mockery and self-mockery. It’s just great to get out of the studio and talk with someone else that understands.
Eventually we all realized that the business meeting came early the next day, so off to bed.
I don’t know how anyone else slept, but Tim and I both had a rough night of getting used to having another 50-something guy in the same room. He says I snore. I say he snores worse. It did not come to fisticuffs–but we were both pretty bleary at breakfast. BTW, the Embassy Suites has a complimentary breakfast that is as complete (and better) than that I had on an ocean cruise. So, if you stay there make sure to plan for that. Great food, and lots of it.
Once again we met many others in our group as they arrived, and had a time of sharing. But Shep, Tim and I had to go over our pre-meeting notes to make certain everything was planned out so that the business meeting wouldn’t take too much time and set the rest of the day back. We also had to get our signage put up in time to direct people our way. The Columbia Room was set up to order with classroom seating for 60 or more, a computer projector and screen, as well as podium and microphones–but it was little hard to find until we put up our signs.
With minutes to spare I ran up to the room to brush my teeth and return to call the meeting to order. Or rather what passes for order with a group of cartoonists on a Saturday morning that begins with the passing out of MoonPies. Let’s face it, most of us are in our middle years and Saturday morning sugar rush is not part of our routine anymore. So eating MoonPies at 9am is a bit of a shock to the system. Add to that the fact that many of us had slept little the night before and you’ll have a notion of what things were like. This is one reason we print out an agenda ahead of time.
Won’t bore you with the boring stuff (?) but we did have a few items come up that will probably be of some interest. First off we welcomed James Allen back to the group. He’s been with us before, but that was when he was assistant on Mark Trail–now he’s the regular artist of that feature. So he was pretty jazzed to be there (or was that the Moon Pie talking, James?)
We had to make nominations for Secretary/Treasurer this year (we now stagger our elections so that no change over of leadership leaves us with all new officers) and Tim Oliphant was the sole nominee this time. He’ll be sending out ballots with his name and write in slots for all the full NCS members to return and be tallied by Shep after the New Year.
We got a lot of good suggestions for possible venues for next year’s meeting: Cherokee, NC, Cleveland, TN, Roanoke, VA, Huntsville, AL, and Helen, GA, Charlotte, NC were all among those suggested. I’ll be taking more elaborate proposals from those who suggested them and making a decision once I have more information. It’s a complicated process to figure out this sort of thing–cost of guest rooms, meeting space availability, convenience for our members and guests. But it will get figured out–eventually.
We also had a few awards to hand out. Greg Cravens was this year’s recipient of “The Meglin” for his work in coordinating the NCS Foundation’s launch of “Cartooning for Kids” at the Memphis Shriner’s Hospital. Greg put a lot of time and effort into that event when it was not possible for any of our chapter officers to be there. He says he’s going to put his “Meglin Award” next to his “Tim Rosenthal Award” in his studio. A fitting place for it, since both are for volunteerism within the Southeast Chapter.
The NCS has created a new chapter award, the “Tom Gill Award”, this for outstanding work educating children about and through cartooning. We officers had to think long and hard about this one, and finally came to conclusion that Sharna Fulton should be our recipient for 2015. This was actually the very first Tom Gill ever awarded! Unfortunately Sharna could not make it to the meeting as she’s just recently moved to Denver, CO with her husband. But we still wanted to honor her for her past work within our chapter, and so Mr. Ollie accepted the award for her.
Last (but far from least) was the 2015 “Jack Davis Award”. This is our chapter’s lifetime achievement award for work in all manner of media, and so it went to our keynote guest Barbara Dale who’s made her name in greeting cards, but has also worked in comic strips, licensing, and is now moving into written fiction (with a lot of illustrations). I don’t know who was more thrilled, our group for giving her this honor or she for accepting it.
But Barb bounced back, and with the help of John Lotshaw soon had her powerpoint presentation ready for us to see.
Prior to the event Barb requested that no one under 18 be admitted to her program because of some of the language she has used in her cards and would use in her presentation. I got some negative feedback about this decision. But my response to that was that I did not feel it was my place to edit or censor Barbara. She offered the request and we emailed back and forth for a few hours one day about it. She could edit herself if she wanted, or we could put the warning on the program–either way–it was up to her. Ultimately she asked for the warning and I have to applaud her for that. I don’t agree with everything she said, nor do I approve of the language she sometimes uses in her cards or in her presentation. But it’s not up to me to make those decisions. But you know what? I still really like Barbara. She may swear like a sailor (and she fully admits that sometimes she does) but she’s a really nice lady and I’m glad I’ve gotten to spend some time with her sharing this inky profession.
Kate Salley-Palmer does NOT swear like a sailor. She was our second speaker, and even though we don’t see eye to eye politically she did a great job covering her career as a political cartoonist turned children’s book writer and illustrator who is now returning to political cartooning. And you know something else? I really like the way that she draws. She has a really neat style. I also like her interest in illustrating South Carolina history for children, and her gracious Southern manner.
We then took a break for lunch. I stuck around the meeting room guarding the various items in the silent auction for most of that time–and just relaxing a bit. There were some really nice pieces of art for sale–including two pages of Peanuts comic book art donated by Robert Pope, and an original Brenda Starr Sunday page from June Brigman and Roy Richardson! There were a lot more cool things, but everyone agreed that those three were the stand out pieces of the auction.
After a while Shep came in to relieve me from guard duty and I ran out to grab some lunch (and pick up some to go for Shep). Most everyone was dining at “The 19th Hole” (did I mention that Embassy Suites is also a golf resort?) and I sat down briefly with Stephanie and John, as well as old acquaintance Ashley Holt–who promptly offered me half his turkey club sandwich (large portions at The 19th Hole). I was just getting into my litany about Atlas/Seaboard Comics from the 1970s when the to go order arrived and I was off to relieve Shep in time for our afternoon programming beginning at 2pm.
We were fortunate to have one of last year’s speakers, Qiana Whitted, English Professor from USC, back this year to moderate a panel discussion featuring Barbara, Kate, Stephanie and June. It’s neat to have so many talented folks in our chapter and so 3 out of 4 of the panel are actually part of the chapter (saves us some money on airfare too). You may have noted that the panelists were all women–and there was some discussion on that fact. But surprisingly there was little mention of difficulties with the “glass ceiling”. In fact all four women involved were happy to say that their own careers had mostly been untainted by sexist attitudes on the part of their editors and art directors–in fact the most outrageous anecdote of insulting attitude had been by a female editor who didn’t want someone who, “drew like a girl!”
Something that struck me during the discussion were that I actually began to assimilate the idea that we cartoonists do share a language–and that’s why we get along so well in spite of differences of opinion and beliefs. I’d heard it said (and even mentioned it previously in this blog) but there’s a difference in knowing it and feeling it down inside. That’s kind of cool to have taken away from the event.
The other thing was we had been talking a lot about some of the difficulties in dealing with younger cartoonists in recent years. An almost dismissive quality that some have toward the notion of editors, art directors, etc., that they will take their art on the web and get recognition that way. While we all agreed that we were no different when we started out–at least not in attitude–there is this sense of shut off when any of us older cartoonists offer feedback. June Brigman put it this way: Many of these kids have been trolled something fierce while online and so it’s not that they’re shutting US out particularly, but after a few vicious trolls they close their minds to any criticism at all, positive or not. While that doesn’t change the nature of criticism, it does help me better understand ways in which I can better approach “the millennials” I meet in the future.
For the record, all you millennials out there who are cartooning: we not out to get you. We truly want to help you develop your work. Don’t shut us out. Bring us your work and we’ll do what we can to help you develop into better artists and storytellers–give us a chance.
As the panel finished up Qiana took a moment to plug her next big event–a forum on comics at USC April 14-16, 2016. So be looking for more information on that in the future. Sounds like they’ve got a good line up of creators.
The auction concluded early (by mutual consent) and the final tally was $500. I think this may be the best we’ve done since we were in Savannah and had contributions from all the MAD Magazine crew. So $250 of that is going to the Children’s Hospital, $125 to the Milt Gross Fund, and $125 to the SEC to cover some of our expenses.
Just as we were finishing up, Shane “ShaneHai” Harris showed up. I’d been giving Shane directions via text during the day and, well, it’s my fault he got lost. At least he made it, and was able to show his samples to many of the people who gathered in the hotel lobby before dinner (another happy hour–this time I had a Shirley Temple!) Shane was able to stick around for dinner with us at City Range Grill.
Here’s who was there. Shep, Tim O., Stephanie and John Miller, Cass and Brenda, Carol and Leanna Rasinovich (Cass’ daughter and granddaughter), Southpaw Aikens, Rex and Val Gray, Tom Littlejohn, John and Karen Rose, Steve Haynie, Sharon Kopstein and Bill LaRocque, Greg Cravens, Vicky Smart, Barbara Dale, John Lotshaw, Bill Holbrook, Roy Richardson and June Brigman, Tina and Dan Bentrup, ShaneHai, and myself. In other words, right at the 30-32 the room could hold. Dinner was really good–for me anyway. I had the best crab cakes ever, and since it was my birthday indulged in a big slice of key lime pie.
But it was really dark in there–too dark for a bunch of bifocal wearing cartoonists to do much cartooning. So we all soon headed back to the hotel and hung around the lobby some more. Swapping favorite movies (apparently all cartoonists love “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”) and tales of brushes with greatness. (Barb once stayed in the Francis Ford Coppola Suite on a trip to NYC’s Card and Licensing show. I once stayed in the Fred Kirby Room of a Charlotte Bed and Breakfast.) We passed around more samples and talked about stuff like Steak n Shake (which gets mixed reviews, but not from John Lotshaw and myself).
Anyway the talk went late into the night. We could afford to sleep in on Sunday as check out wasn’t until Noon–but some had to get on the road early (Greg and Tim for instance had to drive back to parts of Tennessee that are in the Central Time Zone). So we parted ways for the evening–promising to meet for breakfast, “if I’m up by then”.
Tim and I had a better understanding of one another’s sleep habits on Saturday night. (We both piled spare pillows on our heads and slept the sleep of the exhausted). A few of us met for breakfast in smaller groups. But something odd was happening. Many teens and early 20s were showing up, making the place look more and more like a comic convention–seems the Embassy Suites had rented their main meeting room to a group of Pokemon enthusiasts and they were crowding the lobby playing collectable card games! If only Shane had been able to stay over he’d have fit right in with his GI Joe trading card art. Oh well.
Around 11 I got my stuff packed up and headed home to the mountains. It was a pleasantly sunny day (after a rainy Saturday) and a truly nice drive back home. I’m going to miss all you cartoonists. But I’m going to need to rest up for around a year before I’m ready to officiate again. I will say that all the kudos received have enlivened me again. I think I can handle putting one more of these things together before turning in my chairman’s gavel.
Now, you’d think I’d have done a lot of drawing during the weekend. And I did do considerable, but only kept one. I’m going to post it with this blog.