Cartoonists have a love/hate relationship with drawing obituary cartoons. For some, it’s easy to knock out a “Joan Rivers at the pearly gates” cartoon before noon, and spend the rest of the day on the golf course. Others avoid them entirely, considering them trite, meaningless and doing little other than placating the demands of sad readers.
I find myself in the middle of the pack. I tend to draw cartoons about the who have pass on in two situations – when I have something to say or have some level of affection or appreciation of the person. With the death of my friend and colleague Tony Auth, this is the first time I’ve been called upon to drawn a cartoon about someone I knew.
As I was drawing the cartoon, I could hear Tony’s upbeat but critical voice spouting off in my ear. “Keep it simple. Avoid unnecessary detail. I don’t think you got my nose quite right.”
One of the most amazing things about Tony was his openness to new ideas. He was always so kind and giving when snot-nosed upstarts like myself came calling for guidance. His office in the old Philadelphia Inquirer building was worth the visit by itself, and I remember one afternoon making space among the clutter of art and novels sitting down and watching him describe drawing cartoons on his iPad with the enthusiasm of a child.
One of my most cherished possessions is a drawing he did of me for a presentation we made together. In his unassuming voice, he just handed it to me in a plain manila envelop and said, “I hope you like it.”
He embraced change. He kept bugging me to teach him more about Facebook, Twitter, even Reddit. He wanted to know how to connect to online readers and how to use his cartoons in different ways to engage his audience. More importantly, even as he approached the end of his career, he wanted to help reinvent the very profession he was such an important contributor to.
Many people knew him better than me, and their stories will give you the full breadth and scope of this journalistic titan. Signe Wilkinson, the Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist for the Daily News and Inquirer who worked alongside Tony for years, drew this wonderful cartoon.
I just knew him as the guy who kindly, enthusiastically and openly helped me become a better cartoonist, even if I still lean towards unnecessary details.
Rob Tornoe is a cartoonist and a WHYY contributor. Follow Rob on Twitter @RobTornoe