Who Will Win? Our Fearless Reuben Award Predictions for 2016!

reuben_hardwareCartoonists spend 364 days a year hidden from the world in their cork-lined garrets, suffering for their art. But for one glorious day a year, cartoonists emerge to honor the best in the profession with awards (the top award being the legendary Reuben Award). The membership of the National Cartoonists Society has nominated cartoonists in a range of categories, and the winners will be announced on May 28 in Memphis, Tennessee. So we’ve read tons of comics (how we suffer!), studied the demographic trends in the NCS, run regression models and consulted the ghost of Elvis Presley to predict the winners, as we do each year. Herewith, we present our predictions in each division:

NOMINEES FOR THE COMIC BOOK DIVISION AWARD: Ben Caldwell (“Prez”), Erica Henderson (“Squirrel Girl”) and Max Sarin (“Giant Days”). Again this year, we will note that more than half of the divisions include female creators, a welcome trend in an historically male-dominated industry. SHOULD WIN: “Giant Days” (drawn by Sarin and created and written by John Allison) is an engaging slice-of-life story, without constant world-ending cataclysms, and Sarin’s art masterfully captures the spirit of the series. WILL WIN: It’s tough to bet against Marvel these days, and “Squirrel Girl” is, as its title implies, unbeatable.

NOMINEES FOR THE EDITORIAL CARTOON AWARD: Mike Luckovich, Michael Ramirez and Ann Telnaes. Just like last year: two men and a woman nominated, and Ramirez repeats as a nominee in this division (his third straight nomination in the category). SHOULD WIN: A past division (and Pulitzer Prize) winner, Luckovich has excelled in the run-up to the election with brutally hilarious and clever takedowns of Trump, the GOP as a whole and the overall mortifying campaign for POTUS. WILL WIN: The electoral season has clearly energized Telnaes, propelling her to new heights of lacerating wit. But even apart from her elegant, rapier-sharp cartoons, Telnaes made headlines (perhaps undesired, but nevertheless…) with her work about the Cruz campaign, and voters will reward her scathing yet principled work.

NOMINEES FOR THE GAG CARTOON DIVISION AWARD: Glen LeLievre, Benjamin Schwartz and David Sipress. Schwartz repeats as a nominee, speaking to the respect his NCS peers have for his consistently inventive work. SHOULD WIN: In an era when too many gag cartoons emphasize the idea at the expense of technical virtuosity, Schwartz brings both skill sets to his work. WILL WIN: Though not as technically gifted as his fellow nominees, Sipress has been a consistently brilliant contributor to the New Yorker’s cartoon legacy since 1998, and NCS voters will acknowledge the work he executes in his deceptively simple cartoons.

NOMINEES FOR THE ANIMATION FEATURE DIVISION AWARD: Ale Abreu (director and writer, “Boy and the World”), Pete Docter and Ronnie del Carmen (director and assistant director, respectively, “Inside Out”) and Steve Martino (director, “The Peanuts Movie”). SHOULD WIN: “Inside Out” was a massive hit for a reason, but… WILL WIN: There are no Peanuts fans like NCS members, and whereas Oscar snubbed the sublimely clever, visually inventive Peanuts movie, voters will do their part to rectify that oversight and honor both Charles Schulz’s legacy and a movie deserving in its own right.

NOMINEES FOR THE TELEVISION ANIMATION DIVISION AWARD: Gili Dolev and Yvette Kaplan (“Zack & Quack”), Drew Hodges (“Tumble Leaf”) and Maurice Joyce (“Puffin Rock”). Two of the three nominees (“Tumble Leaf” and “Puffin Rock”) are available only via streaming services, a reminder of the changing nature of content delivery. SHOULD WIN: Through creator Drew Hodges, “Tumble Leaf” has an impressive lineage, with Hodge’s connection to “Saturday Night Live” and “Community.” WILL WIN: If it’s good enough for Daytime Emmy voters in 2015 and 2016, it likely attracts enough NCS members’ votes to win the hardware.

NOMINEES FOR THE NEWSPAPER ILLUSTRATION AWARD: Anton Emdin, Glen LeLievre and Elwood Smith. The two Aussies (Emdin and LeLievre) repeat as nominees in this category. SHOULD WIN: We’re huge fans of LeLievre’s brilliant, buoyant illustrations, but… WILL WIN: We are loath to pick against the astonishing Emdin, who consistently makes his illustrations the highlight of the newspaper stories they adorn.

NOMINEES FOR THE NEWSPAPER PANEL AWARD: Scott Hilburn (“Argyle Sweater”), Glenn McCoy (“The Flying McCoys”), Dan Piraro (“Bizarro”) and Dave Whamond (“Reality Check”). Four nominees here, indicating the depth of talent in this category. SHOULD WIN: Hilburn’s “Argyle Sweater” has been a wickedly clever–and some would say critically underappreciated–delight for years. WILL WIN: What’s a Reuben awards banquet without a McCoy brother ascending the dais in a garish tuxedo to accept a plaque?

NOMINEES FOR THE GRAPHIC NOVEL AWARD: Gabriel Ba (“Two Brothers”), Jonathan Case (“The New Deal”) and Ethan Young (“Nanjing the Burning City”). As a publisher, Dark Horse ran the table in this category, perhaps an unprecedented accomplishment. SHOULD WIN: Young’s “Nanjing” is a devastating exhumation of a particularly brutal chapter of WWII and should be required reading so that “never again” means just that. WILL WIN: Case’s “The New Deal” is a seductive, gorgeously crafted piece of period fiction, and the lovely (and timeless) 1930s settings will also seduce enough votes.

NOMINEES FOR THE GREETING CARD AWARD: Jim Benton, Scott Nickel and Robbin Rawlings. SHOULD WIN: Rawlings brings unique flair and artistry to her greeting cards, which are often suitable for framing. WILL WIN: The work of Nickel—who also produces the comic strip “EEK!”—will speak to voters, who will feel a kinship to the way he conveys humor.

NOMINEES FOR THE ADVERTISING/PRODUCT ILLUSTRATION AWARD: Ray Alma, Anton Emdin and Luke McGarry. SHOULD WIN: It’s not a head-scratcher why companies seek out Emdin to craft their advertising illustrations, but…. WILL WIN: We already expressed our reluctance to pick against Emdin, but the guy can’t win everything. Alma, with his inventive and often subversive approach to conveying a message, takes home the hardware.

NOMINEES FOR THE NEWSPAPER STRIP DIVISION AWARD: Terri Libenson (“The Pajama Diaries”), Stephan Pastis (“Pearls Before Swine”) and Mark Tatulli (“Lio”). Pastis won this division last year and repeats as a nominee. SHOULD WIN: Libenson’s relatable, insightfully humane look at daily life is what the newspaper page needs more of. WILL WIN: Tatulli will likely not be speechless, like his titular protagonist, when his name is called from the awards stage.

NOMINEES FOR THE MAGAZINE ILLUSTRATION AWARD: Anton Emdin, Rich Powell and Julia Suits. Emdin repeats as a nominee here. SHOULD WIN: The redoubtable Powell brought superb flair to feature illustration in a category that provides an expansive canvas. WILL WIN: In a category that doesn’t often have a female nominee, we like Suits’ chances. Not because of her gender, but her more traditional “cartoony” approach to illustration (while lacking Emdin’s virtuosity) will appeal to NCS voters.

NOMINEES FOR THE BOOK ILLUSTRATION AWARD: Juana Medina (“Smick!”), Sydney Smith (“Sidewalk Flowers”) and Gitte Spee (“The First Case”). SHOULD WIN: Smith shouldered an especially heavy burden in this wordless book, poignantly balancing wistfulness and hopefulness in a story remembered long after reading. WILL WIN: NCS members recognized Medina’s abilities early, awarding her the inaugural Jay Kennedy Memorial Scholarship, and this book is a testament to the continuing flowering of her talent. Voters will reward her creative ascendancy with a plaque for “Smick!”

NOMINEES FOR THE ONLINE COMIC STRIP/LONG FORM AWARD: Meredith Gran (“Octopus Pie”), Dave Kellett (“Drive”) and Drew Weing (“The Creepy Casefiles of Margo Maloo”). Kellett is a nominee in both long-form and short-form webcomics for different titles, a feat as impressive for its prolificacy as for its versatility. SHOULD WIN: Weing does a superlative job of capturing a childlike blend of wonder and horror in “Margo Maloo,” and his webcomic will gain wider renown with the forthcoming book compilation. WILL WIN: Kellett has cultivated a large and dedicated fan base with his long-running science fiction epic, and that base’s devotion will help him carry the day.

NOMINEES FOR THE ONLINE COMIC STRIP/SHORT FORM AWARD: Boulet (“Boulecorp”), Bill Holbrook (“Kevin & Kell”) and Dave Kellett (“Sheldon”). It’s a cruel irony that so much fine short-form cartooning exists at a time when newspapers either cannot or will not accommodate it. SHOULD WIN: Holbrook was at the vanguard of web cartooning, having produced “Kevin & Kell” daily since (gasp!) 1995, skillfully developing an engagingly complex cosmology. WILL WIN: Having inexplicably overlooked the trailblazing “Kevin & Kell” since this category’s inception, voters will rectify their oversight.

NOMINEES FOR THE REUBEN AWARD: Five cartoonists are vying for cartooning’s top award: Lynda Barry, Stephan Pastis, Hilary Price, Michael Ramirez and Mark Tatulli. Having five nominees means a lot of vote-splitting. SHOULD WIN: Lynda Barry has done as much as anyone in recent years to earn mainstream literary respect for cartooning, and she continues to push herself narratively and thematically. WILL WIN: We predict Pastis as the Reuben Award winner every year he’s nominated, and we’ve never been right. Perhaps we’re jinxing him, but we’ll do it again this year, recognizing that his approach to the daily comic strip (edgy, ribald, smart and sophomoric all at the same time) is what the form needs to remain relevant to today’s reader. Plus it’s damn funny. And if we’re wrong again, Stephen, we promise to stop jinxing you.

As always, shortly after the National Cartoonists Society’s awards weekend, we’ll unveil this year’s online photo album capturing moments both dignified and mortifying, and we’ll let you know here when it’s available. We’ll be live-tweeting the NCS awards on May 28, so start following us today to get the results in real time!

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