NCS Cartooning Recap

This past weekend I was in Omaha for a two-day cartooning event sponsored by the North Central Chapter of the National Cartoonists Society (of which I am a member). The schedule was jam-packed and the public was treated to a fountain of cartoon goodies including a special headline event that kicked off the weekend: a presentation by Pixar story artist Josh Cooley. Josh has done work on The Incredibles, Cars, Ratatouille, Up, and wrote the humorous “UPisodes” used in Up’s promotion.

Josh gave his presentation on Friday night to a large crowd at the Kaneko Center. (I’d love to show pictures but photography was not allowed.) Using slides and video he gave us a detailed peek behind the curtain at the story department at Pixar. He explained what the job of a story artist is, showed us some slides of the Pixar facilities (including what looked like an olympic-sized swimming pool, a fully-stocked cereal bar, daily drawing classes, even fencing lessons!), and talked about the long and winding journey that a Pixar film takes from the first kernel of an idea to finished script. We were also treated to animatics of abandoned sequences from Up and Ratatouille—including one very funny bit with a manic lab rat character that was later dropped.

Saturday morning Josh gave a closed-door workshop on storytelling. Being a filmmaking geek and a huge animation fan I ate it up. Then on Saturday afternoon there were three panel presentations given by midwest NCS members:

“Cartooning In The New Economy” – First came a discussion on some of the challenges currently facing artists in the gag cartoon biz. Cartoonists Ed Fischer, Tom Kerr, Bucky Jones, and Dave Carpenter answered a series of questions from moderator and syndicated cartoonist John Hambrock (The Brilliant Mind of Edison Lee).

“Drawing in the House of Saddam” – Next up were cartoonists Rick Kirkman (Baby Blues) and Tom Richmond (MAD Magazine). They showed slides from their recent USO trips to Germany and Iraq. When they weren’t cheering up wounded troops in the hospital they were touring the ruins from the Iraq war including a former palace of Saddam Hussein.

“Sketching As Story”– The afternoon closed with another panel discussion featuring cartoonist/storyboard artist Glenn McCoy (The Flying McCoys, Ice Age 3, Despicable Me), Chris Browne (Hagar the Horrible), yours truly, and Pixar’s Josh Cooley (The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Up), moderated by editorial cartoonist Jeff Koterba. We showed slides of our work and answered a few audience questions about visual storytelling.

Chris Browne, Cedric Hohnstadt

After our panel I asked Hagar the Horrible artist Chris Browne for a photo. He said he would but only if I wore his viking helmet. It’s a special piece of papier-mâché headgear hand made by Chris himself using scraps of leftover drawing paper from his studio. As a kid I have fond memories of visiting my Grandma, curling up on the couch, and reading “Hagar the Horrible” in her newspaper whenever we visited. Now here I was sitting next to the Hagar artist on stage and wearing his home-made Hagar hat. Of course Chris took over the strip after his father’s death so technically he wasn’t the one who drew most of the strips I read growing up but to me that’s a minor detail. It was still quite a treat!

Cedric Hohnstadt with Pixar story artist Josh Cooley

Pixar’s Josh Cooley is a super nice guy and was incredibly generous with his time and talent. In addition to three presentations on stage he also did interviews, signed posters, and ate his meals with our crazy group of cartoonists, most of whom were huge Pixar fans. For two days we bombarded him with geeky question after geeky question and he graciously answered them all.

After the final panel we made our way down the block to the Bemis Gallery for the opening of a special traveling exhibit, “One Fine Sunday in the Funny Pages”. The exhibit featured dozens of original drawings—one from almost every syndicated cartoon strip that you would find in your daily newspaper. The exhibit was put together by John Read, who is also the publisher of the wonderful cartooning magazine “Stay Tooned!”.

During the exhibit several cartoonists hung around for a book signing. Pictured front to back: Rick Kirkman (Baby Blues), Chris Browne (Hagar the Horrible), Glenn McCoy (The Flying McCoys), John Hambrock (The Brilliant Mind of Edison Lee), and Jeff Koterba (signing his memoir Inklings which is getting rave reviews).

What an inspiring weekend! Besides spending time with such inspiring and insanely talented people, Omaha was a charming town and the weather was perfect. I couldn’t have asked for more. I’m still riding high off the cartooning buzz and more excited than ever to keep drawing!

Pixar Comes To Omaha

Thursday I’ll be driving to Omaha for the annual meeting of the North Central Chapter of the National Cartoonists Society. It’s going to be a fun weekend with several NCS events planned that will be open to the public. The headliner will be Pixar story artist Josh Cooley.

Josh will be giving a keynote presentation on Friday night called “Coloring Outside The Lines And Other Creative Ways To Make People Worry About You” (tickets can be purchased here). There will also be presentations by various artists on Saturday at the Kaneko Bow Truss (free and open to the public) including a panel discussion, “Sketching As Story”, where yours truly will share the stage with Josh Cooley and award-winning cartoonist Glenn McCoy. I feel a little bit like the guy in the mascot costume from the local minor league sharing the stage with a couple of pitchers from the Yankees. But I’m also very excited and honored.

To flesh things out there will be a cartoon art exhibit at the Bemis Center in Omaha and several of us will be giving talks at area schools on Friday (I’ll be giving a presentation to a filmmaking class at Omaha South High).

If you happen to find yourself in Omaha this weekend you’ll be in for a real treat. Here’s the full schedule of the events.

This And That

More misc. links and news of interest from around the web:

Mort Drucker Interview – Stephen Silver has posted his video interview with famed caricaturist Mort Drucker over at The video, part of his new “Maters Series” is over two hours long. For $39.95 you can have unlimited access to the video online for 30 days. (Sorry, due to piracy concerns its not available for download or to buy on DVD).

Pricing and Contracts Tutorials – If you are new to freelancing, illustrator/designer Mark Monlux has created two short slideshow presentations you should check out. One explains how to price your work, the other walks you through the basics of a good freelance contract.

Call For Entries – The National Cartoonists Society is now accepting submissions for their annual division awards. You don’t need to be a member to apply. Deadline is Feb. 6.

Who’s Who of Animation Studios – All animated films do not come from Disney. Here’s a quick run down on the top animation studios.

Free Graphic Novel – My friend Sherwin Schwartzrock is an amazing designer/illustrator. A few years ago he illustrated a graphic novel called ArmorQuest. He’s now giving them away for free.

“Help The Hodges” Art Auction – The first third of the “Help The Hodges” cartooning and animation art auction is in full swing over on ebay. If the auction is too rich for your blood but you want to help out, you can donate through Paypal at

NCS Chapter Picnic



For the last several years I’ve enjoyed being a member of the National Cartoonists Society. Our chapter (the North Central Chapter) covers several midwestern states but we manage to get together three or four times a year and I always have a great time. I spend so much time alone in my freelancing cave that I relish any opportunity to hang out with other cartoonists. This is a really fun bunch.

Tonight Tom and Anna Richmond hosted a chapter picnic at their lovely home right here in the Twin Cities. They are first-class hosts and Anna is a fantastic cook. We spent a relaxing evening enjoying burgers, wine, cheese, desserts, and even caramel-marshmallow s’mores around a fire pit in the back yard. Thank you Tom and Anna for your wonderful hospitality! The evening went by way too fast.

Sorry for the lack of photos, I was too busy enjoying myself to snap one or two quick shots with my iPhone. Not sure why the group photo turned out so blurry, my iPhone usually does a much better job.

The next NCS event will be our annual chapter meeting in October. This year it will be in Souix Falls, SD. Unfortunately I’m not going to be able to attend—I’ll be running with my wife in a 5K “marathon” that weekend. That made this picnic even more enjoyable for me.

Incidentally, if you haven’t checked out Tom Richmond’s illustration blog you are really missing out. Give it a looksee.

Report From The Hollywood Reuben Awards Weekend

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.

Cartoonist Steve Moore, creator of "Open Season", talked about how the animated movie came to be.

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.

Movie poster artist Drew Struzan discussed his work.

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 ( does a sketch for a fan.

Character designer Stephen Silver (Kim Possible) pauses to do a sketch for a fan. Incidentally, Silver teaches an online character design course at 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.

Cedric w/Michael Ramirez

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.

Jennie and I on our way to the Reuben Awards. You can barely see it but the Hollywood sign is between our heads.

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.

Mingling outside before the awards begin.


MAD Magazine cartoonist Sergio Aragones chats with fellow MAD artist Tom Richmond.

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, 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.

Cedric, Cathy Guisewite, and Jennie

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.

New Blog: North Central Chapter of the National Cartoonists Society

I’ve had the privilege of being a member of the National Cartoonists Society for about five years now. Since I live in Minneapolis I belong to the North Central Chapter. Most of the NCS chapters are centered on the coasts, where you can find a high concentration of cartoonists in a relatively small geographical area. Since this is the midwest, our chapter is quite large geographically. It covers a multi-state area from the Rockies east to the Mississippi River and from the Dakotas southward through Oklahoma.

But there’s plenty of talent to go around.

In addition to a website, our chapter now has a blog thanks to the efforts of chapter member and blogger extraordinaire Tom Richmond. Members will be posting their recent work and commenting about, well, whatever cartoonists talk about. I’m looking forward to taking part when I can.

Lately members have been posting artwork from their latest Christmas cards and promotions. Check out the chapter blog here.