They Give Awards to Imposters, Don’t They?


Just as comic books have several awards, including the Oscar-equivalent of the Eisner, editorial cartoons have a number of opportunities for recognition outside of the Pulitzer. Being the latter half of the year, it’s now the season where these awards begin to ask for submissions and nominations. While sitting down to revisit the past year’s worth of cartoons can be rewarding in its own right, it’s also an annual tradition fraught with self-deprecation.


Looking back at one’s work—no matter how recent—can be a double-edged sword. Case in point, this week I sat down to submit 10 cartoons for an award focused on “local” cartooning. In going through 12 months of editorial cartooning, I felt a definite sense of accomplishment. 52 weeks of work, nary a deadline missed! And given the topical nature of the work, there was also a bit of Memory Lane involved, remembering the news and events from the past year that made fodder for a cartoon. While some cartoons continued to hold up and still elicited a laugh, there was also the pull of self-doubt (“I could’ve done better”) and its cousin, Imposter Syndrome (“Someone else would do better”) while looking back. 


The process to narrow down a year’s worth of cartoons to 10 local cartoons often felt like a challenge. Part of it was the focus on local news, especially in a year dominated by events and topics of national or global scale. However, I was able to earmark more than ten cartoons covering state or city topics; now I had to narrow them down. Whether it’s 10 or 3, it’s an effort to assess your “best” while simultaneously trying to overlook the flaws that seem glaring when looking back at one’s work.


Here are the tricks I’ve learned over the years to ease picking out submissions while also keeping Imposter Syndrome at bay:


  • Focus on the audience. Consider the context of the material when trying to determine “the best” for each submission. Different awards mean different audiences. For example, my cartoons for Charleston City Paper are often in a comic strip format, with a liberal slant. This is not uncommon among alt-weeklies like the City Paper, but runs against the grain in terms of dailies across my red state of South Carolina. Hence, the cartoons I might submit to the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies (AAN) its annual award are probably different from what I would to the South Carolina Press Association (SCPA).
  • Crowdsource opinions. Like I said, some work may just hold up, and looking back with fresh eyes only confirms that with an honest response. However, at other times you may be your harshest critic. When this occurs (and it will), look to others for a more honest opinion. In narrowing down cartoons for a submission, I often look back to how they did on social media. If a particular cartoon seemed to resonate with a high number of “likes” on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook, I weigh that in the selection process. After all, while I may have looked at a cartoon so long it lost its punch, those “likes” provide a nice barometer of how well it really worked.
  • Remember past successes. If you start to doubt yourself, try to recall the moments of affirmation where others appreciated your work. For me, I look back to the recognition from previous awards seasons as validation. Case in point, the reminder of an Honorable Mention awarded at last year’s AAN Awards—a competition spanning all of US and Canada—often kept my spirits up when my inner voice started talking smack while digging through this year’s cartoons.

How do you deal with Imposter Syndrome? Any tips on assessing one’s work for award submissions? Share your thoughts in the ShoutFyre forum!

Steve Stegelin

Editor, Artist, Letterer, Colorist Steve is the long-running cartoonist at the Charleston, SC alt-weekly Charleston City Paper, where he skewers politicians and criminals (and criminal politicians) alike with editorial cartoons and police blotter illustrations every issue. Steve was best known his indie comic book (and subsequent webcomic)  BOONDOGGLE