WHYY pays tribute to an Auth-entic cartoon legend

 The Art of Tony Auth is on display at WHYY from September 24 through November 8.

The Art of Tony Auth is on display at WHYY from September 24 through November 8.

Friday night I got to share a stage with two of the greats in the history of cartooning.

One was Jules Feiffer, whose strip in the Village Voice for years plumbed the anxious depths of the New York state of mind. The other was my dear friend Tony Auth, long the Pulitzer-Prize winning cartoonist for the Inquirer, now WHYY/NewsWorks’ first digital artist in residence.

The occasion was opening night for an exhibit of Tony’s work dating back to the 1960s. Feiffer made the trek from New York City to honor his old friend.

The exhibit, first presented last year at the Michener Museum in Doylestown, now graces the walls of WHYY’s civic space on Independence Mall. It’s called “To Stir, Inform and Inflame: The Art of Tony Auth.”

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If you come, you’ll see more than 130 drawings, mostly editorial cartoons, but also drawings for children’s books and the animations Tony is doing here at WHYY.

WHYY’s lobby has been transformed into a swift, pointed but enjoyable tour of the last 40 years of American history. Every president from Nixon to Obama. Every war from Vietnam to Iraq. Every civil rights advance from Jim Crow’s end to gay marriage’s rise.

All captured in meticulous drawings that can be taken in at a glance, but linger long in memory. A great kick for me is that I was present at the conception of a number of them, during the 14 years I worked with Tony on the Inquirer editorial board. In fact, on a couple, I got to help word the caption.

That reflects one of the traits that surprise people when they get to know Tony Auth the man, after surmising from his work that he must be a sharp-tongued curmudgeon. He is actually the friendliest, most open, most collaborative of souls. Upon joining WHYY last year, he rapidly became a beloved figure.

Which is not to suggest Tony lacks for passion. I saw a bumper sticker once: “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.” Tony Auth always pays close attention. At times, he’ll grab your collar, rattle your complacency. Other times, his work spawns a quiet smile and nod of the head. What he never does is go for the cheap shot, the easy joke.

The walls of WHYY pay tribute to how well he’s done all that over four decades. Whatever your age, whatever your politics, this exhibit is worth a visit.

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