Tony Auth, survivor

One political cartoon is worth….

A lefty in the mainstream.

Reading The Art of Tony Auth is a historic event for me. In his 40 years at the Inquirer, Auth convinced me that the maturing of the editorial cartoon in America is a sine qua non if we are ever to mature as a civilized society.

Alas, it scared me at first to read here that 200 regular American newspaper cartoonists (when Tony began in 1971) has shrunk to a piddling 80. As I bleakly thought the more, I remembered his recent re-emergence as the digital cartoonist at WHYY-TV and suddenly realized: It matters not what’s in the scabbard, as long as the blade is sharp.

Auth’s passion for drawing seems to have been motivated by his having been bedridden young. And his UCLA education in medical illustration deepened this professionalism.

He began as a teacher, period. And he sought cartoonish outlets in lefty and alternative media. (Shades of Professor Hazard peddling himself at the Welcomat in Philadelphia.) But Tony had to break into middle-class newspapers like the Inky, whose unspoken First Commandment was: “Don’t meddle with the muddle of our middle-class readers.”

To watch Auth maneuver with the Inky’s editor without compromising his leftish ideals is as salutary an episode of media courage as I have observed as an ornery lefty. It’s worth the price of the book itself.

But the memorable cartoons are the main course, especially his retelling the issues of the presidencies between LBJ and Obama. Any historian assessing those leaders will do well to begin with Auth’s pen.

(For a recent sampling, click here.)

Our readers respond

Suzanne Fluhr

of Philadelphia, PA on October 22, 2013

I so miss opening the Inquirer and enjoying my Tony Auth moment. Thanks to this book review, however, I see that he is still busy on-line on his own website, so I can rekindle my Auth habit.

David Leopold

of Bedminster, PA on October 22, 2013

Do yourself a favor and visit two exhibitions of Tony's work on view right now. The first is at WHYY through November 8: “To Stir, Inform, & Inflame,” a retrospective of a half-century of his editorial cartoons and book illustrations. Then travel a block and a half to see “AUTH-thentic Philly: Tony Auth's Cartoons of Philadelphia,” at the Philadelphia History Museum (aka the Atwater Kent), through January 31. Between the two, you can see nearly 200 original drawing by Tony.

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