The seeds for what evolved into the National Cartoonists Society were planted during the volunteer chalktalks that a number of cartoonists did during World War II for the America Theatre Wing.
The Society was born at a specially convened dinner in New York in March, 1946, that saw Rube Goldberg elected as president, Russell Patterson as vice president, C.D. Russell as secretary and Milton Caniff as treasurer. A second vice president, Otto Soglow, was subsequently added.
Within two weeks, the Society had 32 members: Strip cartoonists Wally Bishop (“Muggs and Skeeter”); Martin Branner (“Winnie Winkle”); Ernie Bushmiller (“Nancy”); Milton Caniff (“Terry and the Pirates’); Gus Edson (“The Gumps”); Ham Fisher (“Joe Palooka”); Harry Haenigsen (“Penny”); Fred Harman (“Red Ryder”); Jay Irving (“Willie Doodle”); Al Posen (“Sweeney and Son”); C.D. Russell (“Pete the Tramp”); Otto Soglow (“Little King”); Jack Sparling (“Clare Voyant”); Ray Van Buren (“Abbie an’ Slats”); Dow Waling (“Skeets”); and Frank Willard (“Moon Mullins.”).
Panel cartoonists Dave Breger (“Mister Breger”); George Clark (“The Neighbors”); Bob Dunn (“Just the Type”); Jimmy Hatlo (“They’ll Do It Every Time”); Bill Holman “Smokey Stover”); and Stan McGovern (“Silly Milly.”)
Freelance cartoonists and illustrators Abner Dean, Mischa Richter and Russell Patterson.
Editorial cartoonists Rube Goldberg (New York Sun); Burris Jenkins (Journal American); C.D. Batchelor (Daily News); and Richard Q. Yardley (Baltimore Sun.)
Sports cartoonist Lou Hanlon and comic book cartoonists Joe Shuster and Joe Musial.
By March, 1947, there were 112 members in the National Cartoonists Society.
At the end of 1946, Milton Caniff left “Terry and The Pirates” to create the adventure strip “Steve Canyon,” which debuted in 243 newspapers to instant acclaim. The following May, he became the first artist formally honored by the group as the “Cartoonist of the Year.” The trophy was a silver cigarette box, engraved with Billy De Beck’s “Barney Google and Snuffy Smith” characters. The Billy De Beck Memorial Award continued until 1953. The following year, the Reuben Award was introduced.
In 1948, Caniff was elected NCS President. Rube Goldberg was named Honorary President and Al Capp became the second Cartoonist of the Year. Click here to read about Subsequent NCS presidents.
In 1949, the Society volunteered to help the Treasury Department in a drive to sell savings bonds by sending NCS members out on the road. A nationwide, seventeen-city tour was undertaken by teams of ten or twelve cartoonists and a 95-foot-long traveling display.
Through the Society, NCS members have continued to serve the nation in person and through their art. Teams of cartoonists have toured war zones and military installations around the world in cooperation with the USO. Others have entertained at VA hospitals. NCS members have also contributed to many U.S. government programs; their efforts have benefitted NASA, USIA, the Treasury Department Savings Bond division and the President’s Council on Physical Fitness. Other beneficiaries have been the Boy Scouts of America, the American Red Cross and the United Nations.
The tradition of lending our talents to worthy causes continues to this day. In 2001, for example, NCS members in the syndicated community dedicated their newspaper strips and panels to a Thanksgiving initiative that raised over $50,000 for victims of the 9/11 attacks, and members contributed a further $18,000 through the proceeds of a private auction.
Text adapted in part from an article by R.C. Harvey in the National Cartoonists Society Album.