RIP, Tony Auth

You enlivened my life and my newspaper reading during the years I lived in Philadelphia and saw your work in the Inquirer. “Septaman” was among my favorite long-running series, in which you excoriated the public transportation system. The folks in charge never listened to your advice and hence produced the gift that kept on giving.

I don’t remember exactly when I began to send your cartoons to my mother. It no doubt followed  a visit to O.S. I remember she stared at one or another, saying, “I wish I understood how his mind works – how he can see things that way.” I thought, a good chunk of the world wonders the same thing about you.

Pretty soon I was clipping every cartoon except for the Phila-centric ones. If I sent a letter without enclosures she demanded to know where they were. You and Herblock in the WaPo, which she received from a friend living in D.C., kept her spirits lifted during dark political times.


You and I met in the 1980s when I came to the paper to have you autograph a copy of Lost in Space: The Reagan Years. I was shocked to have the security guard wave me around the metal detector when I flashed the book. Mr. Auth must have a great many fans, I thought. It took me some time to locate your cubicle – as I remember up four flights, down and around some dark and not very clean halls. Once I arrived I couldn’t tell how big a space was because it was so crammed with books, papers, magazines, etc. etc. I described it to Mother. “A man after my own heart,” she sighed.

As I described her love of your work, you sketched a spot-on cartoon of Reagan, hair about to take flight, and added suitable words. I am devastated that the book had disappeared from her library by the time I went through it after her death.

We were both able to enjoy your work in the NYTimes when it was reproducing the creativity of people who worked for other papers. I lost track after they subbed you all out for a comic strip. It’s OK but less satisfying in the way that a poem can encapsulate the world in a few words, while the rest of us have to take the long and winding road.

I never looked for your work online … because I believed you had died long ago. Don’t take this as an insult, but when we met I thought you were about fifteen years older than me, not half that. Here’s a final tribute, even more relevant today than it was five years ago.

Appeared in the NYTimes Oct. 4, 2009, p. 2 of the Week in Review
Appeared in the NYTimes Oct. 4, 2009, p. 2 of the Week in Review

So, RIP, Tony Auth. You brought a great deal of joy to many people – and, I hope, made a great many idiots uncomfortable. I know that once again Ann Petry is looking at your drawings and marveling and laughing. Thank you!

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