Tony Auth, 72, Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist, died Sunday

Auth
Former Philadelphia Inquirer editorial cartoonist Tony Auth won the Pulitzer Prize in 1976.

Tony Auth, 72, of Wynnewood, the Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist and mainstay of The Inquirer's editorial page for four decades before resigning in 2012 to become a digital artist, has died.

Mr. Auth had been under treatment for metastatic brain cancer. David Leopold, his friend and curator, said he died at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania on Sunday, Sept. 14, four days after his supporters announced a fundraising effort for an archive devoted to his work at Temple University.

Mr. Auth's remarkable career began in 1971 when the fledgling artist from California flew in to Philadelphia to interview for the position of editorial cartoonist.

Editorial board chief Creed Black seemed hostile to every point Mr. Auth raised. So he was surprised and elated when Black called him in California to offer him the cartoonist job: "We missed hearing your point of view," Mr. Auth said Black told him.

Over the next 41 years, Mr. Auth would use his rapier wit in thousands of carefully rendered drawings to kindle discussion on the political and cultural currents of the day. Few could view an Auth cartoon and stay mute.

"As a cartoonist, he was a gem - a journalist who could evoke reactions from readers ranging from anger and indignation to elation and illumination," said Inquirer Editor William K. Marimow.

Mr. Auth drew cartoons about world affairs, national issues, sports, Philadelphia politics - there was no one better at piercing the veils of self-righteous politicians. "Depending on the occasion, his work might be whimsical, feisty or festive," Marimow said.

Mr. Auth's impressive portfolio - he produced five cartoons a week - was a Philly staple when breakfast meant coffee, bacon and eggs, and the morning paper. As the fortunes of the newspaper industry waned, he still reached a national audience through syndication.

Perhaps more than any other Inquirer journalist, Mr. Auth's distinctive voice defined the paper's soul and crusading spirit, said Stan Wischnowski, The Inquirer's editor in 2012 who is now Interstate General Media's executive vice president for news operations.

"His passion for standing up to those in power - including eight American presidents and seven Philly mayors, as well as his voice for the powerless - were trademarks that set him apart," Wischnowski said.

Outside Philadelphia, Mr. Auth was the face of The Inquirer for 41 years, said Rick Nichols, a friend and former co-worker on the paper's editorial board.

In 1976, Mr. Auth, then 34, won the paper's second Pulitzer Prize, for cartoons published in 1975. Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele won the first, in 1975, for their series, "Auditing the IRS."

Among those Auth cartoons cited by the Pulitzer committee was one showing Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev singing in the midst of a vast American wheat field, "O beautiful for spacious skies, For amber waves of grain." The July 22, 1975, cartoon skewered the United States for becoming the dupe of the Soviet Union in an unpopular grain deal that raised prices on the home front.

Mr. Auth was a Pulitzer finalist in 2010 for his 2009 work. He also earned the Thomas Nast Prize in 2002, the Herblock Prize in 2005, five Overseas Press Club Awards, and the Sigma Delta Chi Award for Distinguished Service in Journalism.

When Mr. Auth joined the Inquirer in 1971, there were about 200 editorial cartoonists working in American daily journalism. By 2010, three-quarters of them had disappeared, dismissed as luxuries in a cost-cutting age. Mr. Auth produced some of his best work during that period. In 2009, for example:

When Sonia Sotomayor was nominated to the Supreme Court, Mr. Auth depicted white male lawmakers within the clubiness of Congress, sniffing that in ruling, she might favor "those who share her background."

When the Pope said that prophylactics were not the answer to Africa's AIDS crisis, he set the Pontiff amid a sea of the afflicted, saying, "Blessed are the sick, for they have not used condoms."

And when suburban Philadelphia swim club owners abruptly showed a group of African American children the door, Mr. Auth drew a sign that read: "NO running, diving, food, beverages, blacks."

But in March 2012, tired of the daily grind and citing the need to try different kinds of projects, Mr. Auth took a buyout. He joined WHYY's NewsWorks.org, the website directed by Chris Satullo, a former Inquirer editorial page editor.

"It's going to be a work in progress," Mr. Auth said. "But I will be continuing to do iPad movies and two or three political cartoons a week for syndication. I'm going to be really busy."

Mr. Auth's departure shocked the news staff. "Tony's insight and perspective are valuable to the editorial board. His decision to leave represents a great loss that the paper will feel for a long time," said Harold Jackson, current editor of the Inquirer's editorial page.

In recognition of his body of work, a retrospective was assembled and shown from June through September 2012 at the James A. Michener Art Museum in Doylestown. Over 85,000 attended.

The 150 items - cartoon drawings, paintings, sketches and children's book illustrations - mapped the life and times of an illustrator in late 20th century and early 21st century America, guest curator David Leopold wrote.

As he went through Mr. Auth's drawings, Leopold was struck by their optimism. "I think the common idea people have of a cartoonist, is that they have a lot of bile at the world. Tony is not full of bile; he is a very happy, nice guy."

Leopold said: "He might not show us, or our leaders, at our best, but there is always his hope, that we will all be better."

Gwen Shrift, writing for phillyburbs.com, attended the show. "I kept hearing chuckles in customarily sedate galleries at the Michener. Even old cartoons still hit the mark," she wrote, and concluded: "In newspapering at its best, the editorial cartoonist got to the point ahead of everyone else. The Michener exhibit reminds us that Auth never squandered the opportunity."

Another retrospective show opened Wednesday at the Philadelphia Foundation on the 18th Floor of 1234 Market Street. Illness kept Mr. Auth from attending.

Officials at the opening announced the kickoff of the Tony Auth Archive Fund, created to acquire the Auth archives, possibly locate the works in a new building at Temple University, and maintain them over time.

Harold Goodman, a Philadelphia lawyer who helped Mr. Auth vet prospective recipients of his archives, said the eventual goal is to put the collection online so that teachers at all levels can use it as a tool for lessons on favorite Auth topics - the Vietnam War, Watergate, Obamacare, civil rights, and others.

Outside the newsroom, and even within it, few knew how Mr. Auth managed to come up with a clever idea each weekday and translate it into a cartoon.

Jules Feiffer, a friend of Mr. Auth and a 1986 Pulitzer Prize winner for editorial cartoons, said that for each cartoon that was published, Mr. Auth drew four or five rough sketches to show his editors.

"He loved being part of the newspaper experience, the journalistic gestalt. Five days a week, five ideas a day, that's 25 a week. Tony did it just about as well as anybody ever did."

"He never never stopped doing his homework, he was always gathering information. An important part was his own personal politics. His ideas came out of his own attitude and politics, and his great humanity and compassion," Feiffer said.

When working, Mr. Auth would assume the perspective of "a bemused, often angry comic historian."

"Irony, never a favorite form with Americans, is his meat and potatoes," Feiffer said. "He is not smug, and though he can be mean, he is never mean-spirited."

Mr. Auth attended daily Editorial Board meetings, listened to colleagues debate the day's news, watched TV, listened to public radio, read widely, searched online, and talked on the phone. Later, he would disappear into his airy office and begin to draw.

"He would show me and a couple of other people his rough drafts. Basically he wanted you to applaud them," said his friend Rick Nichols, with a chuckle. "He would come up with these wonderful visuals that were so arresting. He always said, 'If you don't get it instantly, it's not a strong work'."

In the afternoon, Mr. Auth carried the finished cartoon to the paper's Composing Room and laid it on the engraver's table. He invited the printers to comment. They did, loudly. He smiled and listened.

Once the cartoon became public, reaction poured in. Readers phoned and wrote letters to the editor. They emailed and commented on the Inquirer's website, philly.com. Some of the responses were glowing, others downright profane.

"Just wanted to give you a big thanks, a high-five, and giant hug for your cartoon . . . You are brave, very brave," wrote Susan M. in 2009.

"Sir, that is a brilliant cartoon. Any chance that I could get it on a t-shirt?" Nick H. wrote.

"Your willful and partisan ignorance is truly astonishing," wrote John F. the same year.

"Auth, you are such a useless ----," Louis F. wrote.

Born William Anthony Auth, Jr., in Akron, Ohio, Mr. Auth was raised there and in Los Angeles, Calif. He was bedridden for eight months at age five, and during that time, Mr. Auth began drawing, he wrote on his website, www.tonyauth.com.

He was especially intrigued by comic strips, children's books, and radio dramas.

Mr. Auth graduated from the University of California - Los Angeles (UCLA) with a bachelor's degree in biological illustration in 1965. While there, he worked on the Daily Bruin, the college's newspaper.

After graduating, Mr. Auth became a medical illustrator at Rancho Los Amigos Hospital, a teaching hospital affiliated with the University of Southern California.

He began drawing political cartoons, initially doing one a week for an alternative weekly newspaper. Then, after receiving encouragement from cartoonist Paul Conrad at the Los Angeles Times, he worked his way up to drawing three political cartoons a week for the UCLA Daily Bruin.

As he became famous, Mr. Auth did not close himself off to other cartoonists. He enjoyed mentoring them.

Signe Wilkinson was an art student in the late 1970s when she was invited to visit Mr. Auth in his office on the 5th floor at 400 N. Broad St. She would go on to win a Pulitzer Prize in 1992 for her work at the Daily News.

"On a hot summer day, I arrived and was parked on a director's chair underneath an intimidating row of his framed cartooning awards, dripping from nerves as well as heat. He kindly greeted me and talked as if I already was a cartoonist. He treated all the other cartoonists in our tiny fraternity the same way," she recalled.

Mr. Auth published two collections of his political cartoons, and illustrated eleven children's books. He learned to make movies with a $5 iPad application. "He always had a radio voice, and he narrated them so that the listener could be part of the drawing of the cartoons," Leopold said.

He was married to Eliza Drake Auth, a realist landscape and portrait painter. The couple settled in Wynnewood and had two daughters.

Mr. Auth loved spending time at the family's shore house at Ocean Gate, N.J., tinkering on a sailboat or mixing "dark-and-stormy cocktails for friends," said Paul Nussbaum, an Inquirer reporter.

"The sea seeped into many of his cartoons, which often featured shore scenes, sailboats, or his all-time favorites - pirates and Vikings," Nussbaum said.

Surviving, besides his wife, are daughters Katie and Emily. Funeral arrangements were pending.Contributions may be made to the "Tony Auth Archive Fund," c/o the Philadelphia Foundation, 1234 Market St., Suite 1800, Philadelphia, Pa. 19107, or via: http://bit.ly/1tXzu7o

 


Note:

This article was corrected. Mr. Auth won the paper's second Pulitzer Prize in 1976; the paper's first was won by Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele in 1975 for their series, "Auditing the IRS."

 


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