Robin Williams. Joan Rivers. And now, Tony Auth.
It’s been a tough couple of months for people who love to laugh.
Robin Williams was beloved in the Bay Area. Joan Rivers embodied New York’s scrappy spirit. But Auth was ours.
He may have been born in Ohio, but the Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist established himself in Philadelphia, expressing the heart, soul and humor of this city. After a dazzling four-decade run at the Philadelphia Inquirer, Auth took a buyout and moved to WHYY’s NewsWorks.org, where he served as the site’s inaugural digital artist in residence.
Two years ago, NewsWorks accepted one of my own humorous essays for publication. When it went up on the site, it was, to my delight, accompanied by a Tony Auth illustration.
We writers have very little say when it comes to how our work is presented. You never know up front what the image that goes up with your work will be like. It’s always a surprise — and not always a pleasant one.
A humor piece needs a graphic that will tickle the reader’s funny bone without giving away the punch line. The right one can be a magnet, drawing readers in and engaging their curiosity.
But if your editor goes with the wrong illustration? Your light-hearted little piece is dead in the water. I’ll never forgive the editor who, inexplicably, illustrated a light-hearted essay about contemporary women’s fashions with a stark drawing of a very uncomfortable-looking 19th century corset. Or, worse, the editor who illustrated a humor piece that happened to include a line about dirigibles … with a photo of the Hindenberg.
But the cartoon Auth created to illustrate my essay? Perfection! When I first saw it, I whooped with joy.
The essay, “Random acts of excruciating annoyance,” was about the many little things we do that, unbeknownst to us, drive the people around us nuts.
The secret ingredient
Auth focused on one example I’d given — a co-worker who went ballistic whenever an able-bodied person used the automatic door opener. And he totally nailed it. He’d read the piece and “gotten” it, then added his own marvelous visual punch, bumping the whole thing up a notch.
Not only does that cartoon dude’s over-the-top response give the reader a giggle, it raises a question: Why on earth is that guy so angry?
The only response? Read it and find out!
For Tony Auth, I’m sure it was just another day’s work. But his terrific cartoon made my day. (Hell, it made my week.) Ever since, when submitting to NewsWorks, I’ve secretly hoped that lightning might strike again. Sad to think that it won’t.
On behalf of all the writers whose work you illustrated, elevated, enhanced and touched with your magic — thanks Tony! It hurts to lose you.