My wife and I spent Memorial Day weekend in Hollywood where we visited a couple of clients, did some vacationing, and attended the 2009 National Catoonists Society Reuben Awards Weekend. I love Los Angeles and this was one of the most enjoyable trips I’ve taken in quite a while. I’ve got a bunch of photos posted over on my Facebook page. Here’s a few of the many highlights:
As always the National Cartoonists Society picked a terrific location to host this year’s Reubens. You could see the Hollywood sign from our hotel and the famous Mann’s Chinese theater was just a block or two down the street.
The Reubens Weekend kicked off with a presentation by cartoonist Steve Moore, creator of the strip In The Bleachers and co-creator of the animated film Open Season. He discussed the path he took from being a cartoonist to pitching ideas in Hollywood. He also shared a lot of valuable advice for anyone who is considering putting together a pitch for a movie or TV series. I took a lot of notes. A few points that stood out to me were:
- Write what you know.
- What makes a TV series successful is characters that people can will want to spend time with week after week.
- In a pitch the most important thing is having a world and characters that are clearly defined and that are truly unique.
- Have a clear point of view (know the style/tone of your show).
- Make sure your premise/concept lends itself to not just a few stories but hundreds and hundreds of possible stories.
- There is no recipe for success, just strong ideas and strong execution.
Next up was veteran Disney animator/director Eric Goldberg (apologies for the bad photo). Goldberg is most famous for designing and animating Robin Williams’ Genie in Aladdin. He showed several clips of classic animation and talked about the importance of using clear and expressive poses when drawing a character. The best drawings say a lot with a little, capturing a character’s emotions *and* action in one pose. Goldberg calls it the “Name That Tune” style of animation (“I can name that scene in five drawings, Bob”).
Recently Eric Goldberg released a terrific book on animation called Character Animation Crash Course!. It comes with a CD-ROM containing animated samples from the book for further study. Highly recommended.
Next up was movie poster artist Drew Struzan. You’ve seen his work on movie poster and memorabilia for dozens of classic movies including Back To The Future, Indiana Jones, and Star Wars. He showed slides of his work and talked about what it’s like working with Hollywood studios.
Friday night and Saturday morning everyone enjoyed food near the hotel’s rooftop pool.
Character designer Stephen Silver (Kim Possible) pauses to do a sketch for a fan. Incidentally, Silver teaches an online character design course at Schoolism.com. I took it last year and it was amazing. I probably learned more from his one class than I did in an entire semester of art school.
On Saturday morning my wife and I strolled up and down Hollywood Blvd to do some sight seeing, and then landed back at the hotel in time for a panel discussion on the future of newspaper comic strips. Several points of view were shared but everyone seemed to agree that the future is in computers and mobile devices (i.e. the iPhone). The only problem is finding a way to monetize online readership. At least two panel members mentioned that newspapers are having a hard time finding a financial model that works on the web, and that selling ad space on a website won’t be enough to keep things running. Still, the tone overall was cautiously optimistic.
The final presentation was given by two-time Pulitzer-prize winning editorial cartoonist Michael Ramirez. I didn’t get a photo of his presentation but he was kind enough to pose for a photo with me before performing with his band at the Sunday night party. Incidentally Ramirez also won a Reuben award this weekend for “Best Editorial Cartoonist”.
Ramirez is not only a terrific draftsman but a master satirist. I bought a copy of his new book, Everyone Has the Right to My Opinion, and enjoyed reading it on the flight home. His work is amazing and I found myself chuckling out loud at several of the cartoons. His cartoons are simple, powerful, and funny, which is a difficult balancing act to achieve. What is most amazing of all is that he often starts each cartoon at 10am after his morning meetings and has it inked, colored, and submitted by 3pm. That’s amazing speed, especially considering the detail in his drawings.
The highlight of the weekend was the Reuben Awards on Saturday night. It’s a black-tie event which gives us cartoonists the rare opportunity to dress up and make ourselves presentable. My wife and I posed for a snapshot on our way to the awards dinner. If you squint you can make out the Hollywood sign between our heads.
I had to pretend to be a waiter but eventually they let me in to the banquet.
Congrats to cartoonist Dave Coverly (Speed Bump) for winning Cartoonist of the Year. He’s been nominated numerous times and I’m a big fan of his strip so I was delighted to see him win. For a complete list of this year’s winners click here.
On Sunday my wife and I did some more sight seeing. On Hollywood Boulevard there are a lot of “actors” dressed as famous movie characters. They make their living by allowing you to take a picture with them in exchange for tips. We saw Jack Sparrow, Elmo, and Darth Vader all having lunch at a nearby McDonalds (unfortunately my photos of Elmo and Vader were too blurry to post). The characters are not sanctioned by any movie studio or local businesses. In fact, many locals view them as glorified panhandlers who are contributing to the overall delcine in the environment on Hollywood Blvd.
Incidentally, a few weeks ago I watched a documentary on Hulu.com, Confessions of a Superhero, which examined the lives of four of these “actors”. It was a surprisingly good film.
Sunday night cartoonist Cathy Guisewite (“Cathy”) graciously hosted about 300 NCS members for an outdoor dinner at her home. There was terrific mexican food and live music. We were given a tour of her home, and as is the tradition after the dinner many people traded drawings in each other’s sketchbooks.
A Cathy doll demonstrates the process of working on the strip in her studio.
Cathy set up a table with a large ceramic pot and a miniature piano, and encouraged everyone to doodle on them. Here’s a shot of Bil Keane (Family Circus) doing a sketch while his son and NCS president Jeff Keane looks on.
MAD Magazine artist Tom Richmond heckles Hallmark artist Dave Mowder while he draws on the piano.
I contributed a little doodle as well.
I had a nice chat with animator and author Tom Sito. I’ve been enjoying Tom’s book, Drawing the Line, about the history of the cartoonists unions. It sounds like a dull topic but so many people recommended the book to me that I had to check it out. It’s a fascinating read full of colorful stories and anecdotes about the history of the animation industry. A must-read for anyone interested in learning more about the biz.
On our way out Jennie and I posed with our very gracious host Cathy Guisewite. She threw an incredible party and was extremely generous in allowing all of us into her home.
This year’s Reubens was a rousing success and the organizers deserve a big round of applause for all their hard work. I can’t wait for next year.