‘Arnold Roth is surely the most imaginative and humorous graphic of this day or any other day. Even Max Beerbohm at his best would have to take a back seat.’ (George Plimpton, Paris Review) Arnold Roth was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on 25 February 1929. One of six children, he was encouraged to draw from an early age and at the age of seven, began attending art classes at the Graphic Sketch, a philanthropic school where children could learn from some of the city’s finest artists. He studied art under Frederick Gill at Central High School in Philadelphia, where he was awarded a scholarship to study at the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art (now The University of the Arts). He began his studies in 1946, but was expelled in his second year, as by his own admission, his laid back approach to time keeping and his frequent cigarette breaks clashed with the strict nature of the school.
As a high school freshman, Arnold Roth had indulged his passion for jazz by taking up the saxophone, and as a teenager had begun to perform frequently in various bands across Philadelphia.
In 1948, Arnold Roth went into business with two friends to produce an animated television show. A version of stop animation designed for the early days of commercial television, it consisted of a series of still drawings with narration played over it. Although there was considerable interest in the venture, the show was never aired. This period of Roth’s career was halted abruptly when he contracted tuberculosis and spent over a year in a sanitarium in Brown Mills, New Jersey. In 1950, he returned to art school, but was forced to quit just a few months later to take care of his terminally ill mother. Her death six months later left Roth with enough money to begin working freelance, taking on numerous commissions, even producing designs for lampshades, silk screens and glassware. In 1952, the year that he married his wife Caroline, Arnold Roth received one of his big breaks, producing monthly drawings for Holiday magazine. The same year, he also began producing illustrations for the debut issues of TV Guide. In 1955, he began working as a freelance cartoonist for Storyboard Inc, designing characters for stop motion animations, which would then be taken on by advertising agencies. The following year, he met cartoonist and editor Harvey Kurtzman, with whom he went on to collaborate with on satirical magazines Trump (which closed before its first issue), Humbug (1957-58), which he co-edited, and Help! (1960-65). In 1959, he began Poor Arnold’s Almanac, a full-colour Sunday cartoon strip for the New York Herald Tribune Syndicate. The strip ran until May 1961, when a battle between the New York Herald Tribune and the syndicate led to the newspaper cancelling the feature. Poor Arnold’s Almanac was revived for a second run from September 1988 to January 1990 through the Creators’ Syndicate. A collection of the strips was published by Fantagraphics in 1998.
In August 1960, Arnold Roth and his wife moved to London. He continued to produce his weekly strip for Poor Arnold’s Almanac, as well as work for Harvey Kurtzman’s Help! In the late 1950s, Roth had had his first drawings accepted by Punch and whilst in London produced work for virtually every issue, while also producing a large amount of work for Esquire. Arnold Roth returned to the United States in 1962, settling first in Princeton and later in New York City. In 1965, he took over the Punch feature ‘Report from America’ from PG Wodehouse, producing a two-page drawing each month until 1988.
Since the 1950s to the present day, Arnold Roth’s cartoons and illustrations have appeared in magazines and periodicals from Playboy to Sports Illustrated, GQ to Entertainment Weekly and Time to The New Yorker. He has provided the illustrations to numerous books, including Grimm’s Fairy Tales (1966) and The Lexicon by William F Buckley Jr (1996), in addition to his own publications, such as A Comick Book of Pets (1976), Pick a Peck of Puzzles (1966) and Arnold Roth’s Crazy Book of Science (1971).
Throughout his career, Arnold Roth has received a great deal of recognition for his work. The National Cartoonist Society, of which he served as President from 1983 to 1985, presented him with the Reuben Award for Cartoonist of the Year in 1984, Best Sports Cartoonist in 1976 and 1977, and Best Illustrator Cartoonist 13 times between 1976 and 1989, before he withdrew from the competition in 1990. He entered the National Cartoonist Hall of Fame in 2001. The first solo exhibition of Arnold Roth’s work was held at The Print Club in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1958. Further exhibitions have been held at The University of the Arts in Swarthmore Collge in Pennsylvania and at the Century Association in New York City. In 2001, the exhibition ‘Arnold Roth: Free Lance, A Fifty Year Retrospective’ was launched and between 2001 and 2004, it was exhibited in Philadelphia, Columbus, San Francisco, New York, London and Basel.
His work is represented in the collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the International Museum of Cartoon Art in Boca Raton, Florida, the Museum of Cartoon Art in San Francisco, California, The Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Karikature and Cartoon Museum in Basel, Switzerland and Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio.