Jon, remember one thing, I said. The Reuben Awards dinner was done, the last bits of dessert being passed around the table, the ceremony getting ready to begin. If you win, you give me the manly hug and you kiss Amy, not the other way around. Jon Rosenberg’s wife has heard me, and behind Jon’s back she begins to choke on the bit of chocolate she’d been nibbling at.
Oh, I don’t know, says Jon, stroking his chin and staring at me. You’ve got the moustache, I’ve got the goatee, I wonder what that feels like on bare skin. Behind him, Amy begins choking all over again and I’m pretty sure something dessertish is about to come out her nose. Jon’s nervous, convinced he’s going to lose, happy to see that the On-Line Comic Strips division award is the first on the list, so that at least it’ll be over soon. He steps outside for his 87th smoke break and I apologize to Amy for timing my remarks while she was trying to eat. She’s shaking her head, prouder of Jon than I’ve ever seen, so happy that she could be here to share this with him.
Mike Krahulik is one table away with his wife, Kara, along with Robert Khoo and onetime PAX-wrangler Amber Fechko. She’s getting close to finishing medical school and her PhD, hoping to stay in Seattle for her neurosurgery residency. In about ten or twelve years, if you need somebody to cut into your brain to fix something that’s gone horribly wrong, hers is the face that you will want to see before the surgical mask goes on. In fifteen or twenty years, hers might be the first face you see, period, as she perfects her research into neuro implants to give sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, and spider-sense to the wannabe angsty superheroes.
The last time I saw Kara she was pregnant with a boy who is now nearly two years old. She’s done the dress-up thing with Mike many times for Child’s Play, for the TIME 100, but it’s clear that each time she’s thrilled for him. The geeky guy with scribbly cartoons she’d met all those years ago is a key part of a small media empire, endlessly creative, able to spend loads of time with their sons, and dang does he clean up well.
Robert is Robert.¹
Mike hasn’t noticed yet that his award nomination is up first; he’d been hoping to hear an acceptance or two, have some idea what to say if he should find himself at the front of the room. It’s quickly decided: thank the NCS, say something on behalf of Jerry², thank Robert, extra-thank Kara. He’s pretty damn happy to be in the room, and later he’ll tell me Stephen Silver said I’m an inspiration to a generation and Jim Davis knew who I was and said he liked my work. That’s a pretty good night. Mike and Jon wish each other good luck.
I’ve lost track of Matthew Inman since the end of the pre-dinner cocktail reception³; he’d only arrived in Las Vegas a few hours earlier, and his first introduction to the NCS is a room full of people he doesn’t know. We shake hands and I’m glad that he’s so young, since it means that I’m no longer one of the ten youngest people in the room. Okay, there are kids of members here, and a delightful pair of students from SCAD4 that I’d met on Friday, but I’m definitely on the young end of the age spectrum. We talk about SQL coding for a bit with his girlfriend, Kyoko.
Matthew asks if I know anybody, and I nod towards where Jon, Mike, et. al. are having a drink with Bill Amend. I mention some of the people I’ve met during the weekend, but it’s a dozen or so out of the couple hundred in the room and we share that sense of disorientation that comes from standing on the periphery. Matthew surveys the room, taking in the membership and says to me, This is only my opinion, but I’m wondering why Zach Weiner isn’t here. They need to invite him! I mean, I do like one comic a week, and he’s putting great stuff up every day! We spend the rest of our talk discussing how awesome Zach and his creative collaborators5 are.
The time is getting close — there were various program bits, honors, and an intermission before the division awards, and people are coming back to the ballroom with fresh drinks. Amy tells me that Jon’s parents, who are watching their three kids back in New York, have forwarded a question from their daughter: Did Daddy get his reward yet?
The lights go down, and Dave Kellett and I wonder who will present this first recognition of webcomics. Bill Amend (a Cartoonist of the Year laureate) is announced and he’s brimming with energy as he leans towards the microphone to read the names of The nominees for On-Line Comic Strips, and it’s about fucking time. Sample strips are projected onto huge screens in the ballroom as each name is read to applause.
Amy gets her kiss. I get my manly embrace. While Jon is waylaid by photos and well-wishes on his way back from the stage I hug Amy and feel stray tears on her cheek. Jon makes it back to the table, not quite convinced any of this is actually happening. He ducks out once more, this time to call his parents. In the back of my mind, I imagine that somewhere in the extended clan, there’s an elderly relative or two that will finally stop wondering when that boy will get a real job.
If I have the timing correct, as I write this Jon and Amy are a thousand kilometers behind me and 10 kilometers straight down, waiting to fly home to their kids. They have with them a carryon bag with a heavy, impressive plaque next to two neatly folded notecards. One has four names on it, and the smaller one simply says
Scenes From A Multiverse
¹ It might be appropriate to abbreviate that further: Robert is.
² Sadly, Mike’s Penny Arcade co-creator Jerry Holkins and his wife Brenna were unable to attend and were missed.
³ Catching up later, he told me he was seated at the Table of Late Registrants, halfway across the room from Webcomics Corner.
4 Specifically, Sarah Miller, who is finishing her junior year, and Ashley Mercer, who is preparing to graduate and start an internship as a Disney Imagineer. When I met them on Friday Ms Miller neglected to mention that she was this year’s Jay Kennedy Memorial Scholarship winner. She has a style that tends toward Cthonic horror, and Ms Mercer has an interest in children’s books. I suggested they collaborate, and when I ran into them in the ballroom, they told me that they had been excitedly kicking ideas back and forth the night before. Watch these two names — they’re going to be huge.