THE NCS REUBENS kick off this morning in Washington with an event that, in contrast to most of the industry-group’s weekend lineup, will be open to the public.
Today at 11 a.m. in the Madison Building (Montpelier Room), the Library of Congress will host a panel presentation titled “Cartooning and Our Culture,”to mark the 100th anniversary of King Features Syndicate. The program, moderated by King comics editor Brendan Burford, will feature six King cartoonists including Ray Billingsley (“Curtis”), Jeff Keane (“The Family Circus”), Patrick McDonnell (“Mutts”), Brian Walker (“Hi and Lois” and “Beetle Bailey”), as well as “Rhymes With Orange” creator Hilary Price, who is a finalist for the National Cartoonists Society’s 2015 Reuben Award for Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year — which will be presented Saturday evening at a black-tie affair.
The panel event — which Burford says will “illustrate this little, crazy quilt of the comics story that King Features has” — will also feature Pulitzer-winning Dayton Daily News political cartoonist Mike Peters, who is also creator of “Mother Goose & Grimm.”
Mike Peters, after Rockwell. (courtesy of Mike Peters)
And I spotlight Peters here for a moment because he represents a type of creator who used to be a bit more common on the comics page: the newspaper cartoonist who holds down both a full-time staff editorial job, and also produces a seven-day-a-week comic strip. (In more recent decades, we had late cartoonists Jeff MacNelly [“Shoe”] and Doug Marlette [“Kudzu”], to name just two masters of the double-ring act, and Jim Borgman [“Zits”] retired from the political drawing board several years ago — Pulitzer winners all.)
Now, because the always-kinetic Peters seems to have inexhaustible resources of warmhearted energy, into his fifth decade as a professional cartoonist, pulling this editorial/strip double duty might appear to be less of a challenge for him — this man who has been known to reveal a Superman “S” beneath his shirt when speaking in public.
But speaking as someone who once drew both a syndicated daily comic strip and a couple of newspaper sports editorial cartoons a week for a number of years, let me just say: It’s quite reassuring to learn that Peters is, if you trust his own testimony, a fellow mere mortal.
Burford says that Peters will talk today about having “a foot in both worlds,” with strips and political cartoons. Here, peeling back the Superman-cartoonist facade, is what Peters tells Comic Riffs about this lifestyle, and its Kryptonite effects:
“When I first started ‘Mother Goose and Grimm’ [decades ago], I had been doing my the editorial cartoons for 13 years — five a week.
“I was talking to my friend Doug Marlette, who was doing his strip, ‘Kudzu,’ and his five editorial cartoons,” Peters continues. “I told him I was lying in bed that morning and I figured out I had to do an editorial cartoon and a comic strip today and two cartoons tomorrow, and two cartoons the next day, so by Wednesday, I had to have six cartoons done and I was already sweating.
“I asked Doug, ‘How do you do that?’ Doug said: ‘It’s like brushing your teeth: You don’t think: “Oh God, I’ve got to brush my teeth twice today, twice tomorrow and twice the next day.” You just do it.’
“And for 10 years, I was doing that, plus 20 greeting cards for Gibson Card company, calendars, cups, T-shirts — and for two years during that time, I was flying out to L.A. every other week to help Mark Evanier write, draw and direct the ‘Mother Goose and Grimm’ animated cartoon show.”
So how did that work out?
“Boy, that was fun,” Peters tells us. “My wife forgot my name, and my kids called me ‘Sir.’
“That’s what I’ll be talking about” today.
“Mother Goose and Grimm” (2015 courtesy of Mike Peters/King Features)
Writer/artist/visual storyteller Michael Cavna is creator of the "Comic Riffs" column and graphic-novel reviewer for The Post's Book World. He relishes sharp-eyed satire in most any form.