Surfing around the web today, it’s hard not to see some tribute to the Tony Auth who passed away on Sunday. There was a remarkable friendship forged between Mike Peters, Tony and the late cartoonists Jeff MacNelly and Doug Marlette. Some of their capers are documented in Doug’s book In Your Face: A Cartoonist at Work. Jeff passed away from lymphoma in 2000; Doug died in a car accident in 2007. Of the four, Mike is the last living.
With his permission, I’m republishing his tribute to Tony that he posted on his Facebook page. Mike writes:
This is just a note to myself but I’m sharing this with you. MacNelly and Tony and Marlette and I were in the same group of young editorial cartoonists that started about the same time. I felt very honored to be in this group. Whenever a magazine or newspaper would write about one of us (mainly MacNelly) they would usually mention the other three. We all became friends because of that. For almost 25 years the Washington Post would have an editorial cartoonists dinner at The Post and they would invite us four (of course Herblock our God, would be there) along with columnists and editors and the whole Graham family with “Katherine” heading the group sometimes. Eventually they invited the brilliant Toles, Borgman, and Luckovich. We cartoonist would get up and tell funny stories that happened to us during the year. They would invite vice presidents, senators, governors, cabinet members, the politicians would only be invited once (except for Senator Moynihan and his wife who came twice). We cartoonists and wives would meet and stay at the Tabard Inn (I think on N street). We would laugh and drink and tell jokes and stories until we wet our selves. For young cartoonists we were breathing rarified air and we knew it. But we all became friends because of this and when someone would win a Pulitzer (Jeff of course had three), we would all call or write and would celebrate with them. Tony was amazing. The other three of us would always try to find a special, clever, witty way of getting an idea across on a certain subject that some other cartoonist wouldn’t think of. I remember Jeff one time wanting to do a cartoon about the Clintons from Arkansas coming to Washington right after he won the election. So Jeff did this brilliant Beverly Hillary-billies (Bill and Hillary with all their suit cases, bird cages and such) on an old jalopy, with the whole Beverly Hillbillies theme song rewritten. Now I had just gotten to Disney world for a week vacation with my family, and I made the mistake of opening the paper on that first day and I saw this great cartoon and I was crushed because I didn’t think of it. And whenever I did something fun that week I would think of that cartoon and would get depressed again. So I called Jeff and told him how he ruined my vacation and he got to laughing. But Tony (who of course also did his share of clever cartoons) would say something like “boy, Reagan is an asshole” and then draw Reagan as an asshole on a GOP elephants butt. And he would get printed EVERYWHERE and get awards, and people would carry him around on their shoulders!! But when I would tried to do something like that I would get dropped from newspapers, syndicates would threaten to end my contract, I’d get tons of hate mail and would almost lose my job. And I’d say “how does Tony do that?” It was because Tony felt it! He had that fire in the belly that true journalists have and he trusted that fire and his cartoons showed it. He went with his ideas when most of us cartoonists would not have the courage to draw them, and he did it with such few brilliant lines that it came across pure. His ideas were pure and his drawings were pure. It was a combination that none of us had. We have lost a giant in our field of cartooning. We have lost a great artist and I have lost a true friend.