Photograph by Anne Hall
|Columns and Comments|
- Lucy Shelton Caswell, Professor and Curator of the
Cartoon Research Library, Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio
Born February 25, 1929 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Have been drawing and wanting to be a cartoonist ever since.
Attended public schools and was awarded a scholarship to art school which I attended as often as was possible. I commenced free lancing in 1951 and continue to do so.
I am married to the former Caroline Wingfield. Working closely together, we produced two sons: Charles Perino Roth and Adam Wingfield Roth.
We have lived and worked in Philadelphia; London, England; Princeton, New Jersey; and continue to do so in Manhattan, New York City.
I started to play the saxophone in dance and jazz bands while in high school and that is yet another thing that I continue to do.
Arnold Roth: Free Lance Cartoonist
DRAWINGS & PRINTS IN COLLECTIONS:
ONE MAN EXHIBITIONS:
SYNDICATED NEWSPAPER COMICS:
BOOKS - WRITTEN AND ILLUSTRATED:
BOOKS - ILLUSTRATED BY:
RECORD ALBUM JACKETS:
ANIMATION: WRITTEN AND/OR DESIGNED:
NATIONAL CARTOONIST SOCIETY:
THE UNIVERSITY OF THE ARTS:
CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania:
SOCIETY OF ILLUSTRATORS:
ART DIRECTORS CLUB(S) AWARDS: Gold and Silver
THE ARTISTS GUILD OF CHICAGO
THE ARTISTS GUILD OF PHILADELPHIA
SOCIETY OF PUBLICATION DESIGNERS
COMMUNICATIONS ART EXHIBITION
FEDERAL DESIGN COUNCIL
COUNCIL FOR ADVANCEMENT AND SUPPORT OF EDUCATION
NEW JERSEY ASSOCIATION OF TEACHERS OF ENGLISH
PERIODICAL PUBLICATIONS IN WHICH WORK HAS APPEARED:
“… Though Arnold Roth’s main ambition was always to be a cartoonist, the jazzman in him can be detected in the lyrical visual swoops and his preference for improvisation with the pen, as opposed to careful preliminary drawings in pencil… He is allergic to editorial interference; it takes away from the jazz. He has worked for Playboy, and for a magazine called Trump that Hefner founded and folded, and for one called Humbug that lasted a year. For a time he lived in England and was a steady contributor to Punch. These days he appears most everywhere, from Esquire to Time – wherever the paper is glossy. To my lasting delight, he has done three beautiful book jackets for me, at my invitation. He is not only a linear wizard but a fine colorist, in the delicate English style. English artists – Gilray, Rowlandson, Cruikshank – have meant a lot to him; he reminds us, a bit, of Searle and Scarfe. Nevertheless, he is an American original, irreverent, tireless, manicky, and secretly efficient. He can draw, is what it comes down to, and his work jumps with joy.”
“All cartoonists are geniuses, but Arnold Roth is especially so.”
John Updike (from his introduction to Poor Arnold’s Almanac)
This exhibition might be advertised as celebration of the all-American success story. Robert C. Harvey’s biographical sketch of Arnold Roth in this volume tells about a Jewish boy growing up in a rough Philadelphia neighborhood. He makes good through talent and hard work. He teaches himself the saxophone and plays so well that during hard times he can support himself with band gigs. He contracts tuberculosis, but recovers. He meets a beautiful, talented, intelligent woman and enjoys a half-century of married life with her. They have two fine sons who share their parents’ creativity. Even though he is dismissed from art school, his skills are such that he is hired at one time or another by virtually every major magazine published in the United States between 1951 and 2001.
There is no question that Arnold Roth’s talent and accomplishments are remarkable. His work is the result of long hours at the drawing board and a fierce determination to make each deadline. What we celebrate with this book and the related exhibition is, however, the fun that Roth has had – and has shared with us – for fifty years. The cover illustration Roth did for the November 1994 issue of INKS: Cartoon and Comic Art Studies provides a visual summary of his career: he sits with his bow tie on at his drawing board, laughing as he draws, while a scowling neighboring artist who is searching for an idea looks jealously through the window. Arnold Roth knows what he wants to draw and enjoys doing it. His hand is sure and facile as it moves to create images that capture their viewers’ imagination, pictures that seem already to be completed in his mind and flow onto the page. His sense of color is subtle, adding to the drawing but never overwhelming its lines. His bravura control of watercolor, breathtaking.
Unlike many artists of his generation, Arnold Roth was successful in having his original work returned to him by the editors and publishers who commissioned it. To be sure, some important work such as his art for Trump and Humbug is lost; but hundreds of pieces dating to his student days remain in his possession and were considered as this exhibition took shape. The final selection was guided by an effort to document the breadth and scope of Arnold Roth’s freelance career as completely as possible without overwhelming viewers. Roth’s work must be read carefully, not simply “looked at.” It requires the active participation of the viewer to catch the subtleties that are, in fact, the heart of his work. Keeping this in mind, the decision was made to limit the works in the exhibition to a number that would not cause glazed eyes or exhibition fatigue – since either would betray the playfulness that is Roth’s hallmark.
Arnold Roth: Free Lance is a celebration of many things: an outstanding talent, a long and remarkable career, success and many honors; but most of all, it is a celebration of the joys of making art and the pleasure it brings to others.
From the Introduction of Arnold Roth: Free Lance, A Fifty Year Retrospective, published by Fantographic Books, 2001.
|Alan Coren, former Editor, PUNCH:
In common with countless millions of adolescents on both sides of the Atlantic, and very probably on both sides of many another other serious waterways, too, I began buying Playboy, some forty-odd years ago now, because it had Arnold Roth in it.
Few of us, of course, dared admit to this, sheepishly handing over our rattling sockfuls of months savings to some inquisitive newsvendor, or being caught by a sharkfaced headmaster on the farthest perimeter of a football field with our Playboy concealed inside The Big Boy’s History of Belgium, or having a caring mother tiptoeing into our rooms late at night to find out why the bed was shaking plaster off the dining-room ceiling, we were quick to explain that we bought Playboy only for the interesting photographs of big women, because no other serious publication contained quite as many big women as this one did, and if you needed to study big women properly, maybe some day majoring in them, or indeed going on to a PhD, or even making a career in, say, cosmetics or the slavetrade, you would be well-advised to learn as much as you could while your brain was still young and receptive. Al this was something older people immediately accepted.
Had we, on the other hand, confessed to buying Playboy because it carried the work of the world’s greatest living cartoonist, we should almost certainly have received a good hiding. The fifties, remember, were a period when corporal punishment was still a flourishing pastime, and not only would a sharkfaced headmaster or caring mother happily lash out at any young person who threatened what had been established as the status quo, but even an inquisitive newsvendor would be ever on the qui vive to floor any teenage customer who gave him what he considered a smart answer. Had I, for example, told my mother that what the bed was shaking with was uncontrollable laughter, my parents would have required only the briefest of discussions concerning my incorrigible want of gravity before hauling me out to school and packing me off to be a chimneysweep or whaler. Whereupon, I have little doubt, they would have begun making strenuous, albeit elderly, attempts to conceive again, praying that this time they would succeed in constructing an offspring reliably humorless enough to become an orthodontist.
Thus, subversion was perforce the keynote of my life, just as (for those who grow impatient for the knitting of disparate strands) it is the keynote of Arnold Roth’s. Scour this benighted planet for someone who might succor us against those who daily sucker us – the monarchs and the presidents, the shamans and the bureaucrats, the bishops and the generals, the bankers and the architects, the lawyers and the scientists, in short the movers and the shakers – and you would be hard-pressed to come up with a champion likelier to move and shake these false gods to their feet of clay than the iconoclastic genius we honor here today, feller of the mighty, scourge of the bogus, deflater of the pompous, seamless fusion of brain and soul, word and line, and thus the cartoonist supreme (also a saxophonist, but probably not to another saxophonist.)
And also, for ten years, my employee. Forgive me, that isn’t literally true, I just like saying it. It makes me feel like a Medici, it helps me to argue dat mah libbin has not been in vain, for the fact is that Arnold cannot be descrived as anybody’s employee, because there was never a freer lance than his; it’s simply that, down the long arches of the years, some editors have been fortunate enough to have him walk through their doors, stand his lance in their corners, and lay on their desks artwork of such impeccable quality that they had no option by to reach immediately – or, at least, as soon as they had stopped marveling, roaring, slapping their thighs, calling to their colleagues to come in here right away, and generally undermining their bargaining position irremediably – for their checkbooks. Those ten years of mine were spent as Editor of Punch, then (the 1980s) the finest humorous magazine in the world – even granted that this is an opinion for which the editor of The New Yorker would have called me out to Central Park at dawn and offered me the choice of weapon – and thus a fitting showcase for the world’s finest cartoonists. Than whom there was none finer than Mr. Roth. Issue after issue, he graced our fortunate pages with his unique comic vision of America in all its joys and lunacies, which, to the million-strong States-smart British readership that Punch enjoyed, stood him in line not simply with US cartoon legends like Peter Arno and Saul Steinberg and Charles Addams, but also with the great literary wags, from S. J. Perelman and James Thurber to Joseph Heller and Woody Allen (also a clarinettist, but probably not to another clarinetist).
And if, in all those years of rejoicing over Arnold Roth’s work, I had one regret, it was that my readers would see that work only in the miniaturized reproductions of the magazine. None but my staff and I saw the wondrous originals, in their original size, their original line, their original color, their original, in every sense, brilliance. That this splendid exhibition finally allows a wider world to relish what only a fortunate few have hitherto seen not only allows me to rekindle my own rejoicing but also to rejoice that the rejoicing can, at last, be shared.
From the Preface of Arnold Roth: Free Lance, A Fifty Year Retrospective, published by Fantographic Books, 2001.
|Miles Kington, Columnist for London Independent:
It takes a lot to get me up to London these days. Work sometimes does the trick. Free lunch, no. Marches, hmmm. Party, very occasionally. Old girlfriend, possibly. But I legged it up to London at top speed last night to get to the opening night of a show of cartoons by Arnold Roth.
Who? Well, Arnold Roth is the guy who sent me the best Christmas card I got last year. It showed Santa with team of reindeer sitting on top of a mosque, clearly lost, while the muezzin pointed him in the right direction. (Second-best was a card from Steve Way, showing King Wenceslas out in the snow saying: "Yonder peasant! Have you thought of changing your energy supplier?" Clearly, cartoonists do their own best cards...)
Arnold Roth is also one of that select band of artists who may be thought of by the public as cartoonists and caricaturists, but who are actually far better than that. Most cartoonists develop a style that is ideally suited to their job: ie, a brusque, brief, shorthand style that shows the situation, does the joke and makes the getaway. Larry is a good example. Osbert Lancaster was another, as are all pocket cartoonists.
But a few inspired figures go way beyond that. Ronald Searle is one. John Glashan was one. Steadman... Scarfe... Tenniel... Daumier... Yes, they are all people who sprang from cartoon backgrounds and went on to become wonderful artists, and Roth is up there with the best of them.
If you haven't heard of him, I guess that's because he is a good American, and we are interested only in bad Americans. When we say that Britain is swamped by American culture, we mean that it is swamped by the worst of American culture; we forget to import the best. We let the burger chains and the baseball caps in, and the Oscar ceremonies and all that crud, and forget the Californian cuisine and Dave Barry and Ruby Braff and... well, and Arnold Roth.
I heard someone say recently that the true style of America, the real native style, is the Gothic. That may well be true. Think of Poe, of Ambrose Bierce, Charles Addams, all those Frankenstein remakes, Edward Gorey, Maurice Sendak, Kinky Friedman... And, if it is true, then Arnie Roth is one of the greatest living champions, because his drawings unfurl like orchids in a Nero Wolfe hot-house; they spread tendrils; they are luxurious and sly. His people have India-rubber limbs that go all over the place. His drawings are choked with detail, yet they move all over the place, as if caught in a high wind...
And yes, I suppose I am saying these things because I am an old mate of his, even though I haven't seen him for years, which is why I legged it up to London last night. I used to see Arnold Roth quite often when he made a transatlantic visit to Punch, so I am biased by knowing also that he likes jazz and tells the best stories I ever heard. In my office at Punch, I often used to keep a double bass, and Roth was the only cartoonist I ever knew who would sidle into my room, holding an alto sax, and say, "Miles, what do you say to a quick 'Blues in F' before lunch?" Ah, dear, dead days. Roth was also very Jewish when it came to stories – ie, he told the best stories you ever heard, and, to this day, I think his one about the grandmother is the best of all funny stories.
No, of course I'm not going to tell it now. One day, maybe, when Arnold is out of the country and isn't listening. For now, I just want to urge people to get along to the Cartoon Arts Trust and see the work of a master. Yes, yes, Constable and Delacroix, yes, yes, Titian, yes, I'll try to get to those if I have the chance, but Arnold Roth is my No 1 destination.
Cartoon Arts Trust? You've never heard of that? Gosh, you're making it hard going for me today. Well, it's in the Brunswick Centre, in a windswept piazza in London, on Bernard Street, near Russell Square Tube station. Honestly, I thought you Londoners knew your own city. It comes to something when an out-of-towner has to tell you these things.
Anyway, I have a little space left over, so perhaps I will tell you this Jewish story about the grandmother who takes her little grandson down to the beach one summer's day...
Continued some other time
"Drawn in the USA," published by London Independent, February 21, 2003
Being the shy person that I am, I did not meet Arnold Roth on first
"Arnold Roth is surly the most imaginative and humorous graphic artist of this or any other day. Even Max Beerbohm at his best would have to take a back seat."