Greetings, Tony Auth – Cartoons on the radio, and other wonders

Today, at an age when many people are plotting their assault on the early-bird special or tooling around snowbird retreats in a golf cart, Tony Auth begins a new stage in a distinguished career.

After 40-plus years of provoking nods of agreement and howls of outrage as cartoonist for the Philadephia Inquirer, Tony joins WHYY as our digital artist in residence.

Anytime you can welcome a winner of the Pulitzer Prize, as well as an all-around great guy, that’s worth a cheer.

Consider this my version of that cheer.

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Ever since word leaked out a few weeks ago that Tony would be coming to WHYY, many people have posed this question with furrowed brow:

“How can you do cartoons on the radio?”

Tony’s heard that so often that he joked the other day that the feels a bit like another bearded character, the fellow in those hilarious Dos Equis commercials.

You know, as in: “He’s the most interesting man in the world. The pope asks his advice on theology. He does cartoons … on the radio.”

But it’s not really a mystery. It’s a sign of the fast-changing times in technology and media.

Public media outlets like WHYY are no longer just about Big Bird and Fresh Air. To serve the public, they have to be adept and agile on the Web, on social media, and on mobile devices. (And Fresh Air, by the way, does that very well indeed.)

That’s why, in late 2010, we launched NewsWorks, our digital platform for news and dialogue. That’s Tony’s newplayground.

He’s coming to public media to do something different from what he did so well at the paper. He will not do political cartoons on national issues for us; but fans of his work in that vein should not despair. He’ll continue to do such cartoons for the Universal Features Syndicate.

He’s coming here to experiment in new forms of visual storytelling.

A first example, an animated drawing that materializes before your eyes, with audio commentary, on NewsWorks today.

We imagine sending Tony out on stories with reporters as we might a photographer. We see him covering stories himself with his sketchbook, exploring local issues with a series of slideshows with commentary.

The coolest idea for how to deploy his talent and craft probably hasn’t dawned yet. Maybe one of you will suggest it.

Let the drawing and the story-telling begin. Welcome aboard, Mr. Auth.

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