New York by Herb Roth
'Oh, That New York! - What It Doesn't Do To You!'. 

Herb Roth was an early to mid-20th-century American illustrator, political cartoonist, caricaturist and comic artist. He mostly illustrated (humorous) short stories, novels and other light-hearted books and articles. His comic career was mostly spent in the shadow of H.T. Webster, for whom he ghosted several of his series, including 'The Timid Soul', starring the character Caspar Milquetoast. After Webster's death, Roth continued this series for another couple of months. During his career, Roth had only one known comic strip of his own, the short-lived 'Oh That New York! – What It Doesn't Do To You!' (1913) in the New York World. He also made an attempt at a newspaper comic based on Paul Terry's supermouse 'Mighty Mouse', though this 1947 story was presumably never published. In the Internet Age this odd, "off model" comic was rediscovered and gained notability for its unintentional comedy.

Early life and career
Herb Roth was born in 1887 in San Francisco, California. During the early 1900s and 1910s, he was a notable political cartoonist and caricaturist. His drawings appeared in The New York Herald Tribune, Joseph Pulitzer's New York World, The New Yorker and several literary periodicals. In 1905, he illustrated the boyhood stories of newspaperman and political campaigner John Waldorf Taylor in the Sunday papers of The San Francisco Bulletin. These drawings were later reused in the 1968 book collection 'A Kid on the Comstock', published by The Friends of the Bancroft Library, in Berkeley, California. Apart from politicians, he also caricatured radio stars, Hollywood celebrities and sports figures.


Illustration for 'Story of Manhattankind' (The New Yorker #4, 1925).

Oh, That New York!
Between 12 January and 23 March 1913, Roth published a newspaper comic, 'Oh That New York! – What It Doesn't Do To You!' in the Sunday Metropolitan section of The New York World. Like the title implies, the feature was set in New York City, bringing many of its hotspots in view. While recognizable to readers, the comic didn't glorify "the city that never sleeps". Most gags feature tourists visiting New York, who are then confronted with some kind of inconvenience. As a running gag they always leave again, usually vowing "for good".

H.T. Webster
Throughout the 1930s, 1940s and the early 1950s, Herb Roth was the longtime assistant and ghost artist for H.T. Webster. He helped out the cartoonist with his signature comic strip 'The Timid Soul' (1931-1953), better known as 'Casper Milquetoast', and also ghosted several of his less famous gag panels, 'The Thrill That Comes Once In a Lifetime', 'Life's Darkest Moment', 'The Unseen Audience', 'How to Torture Your Husband (Or Wife)' and 'Bridge'. When his taskmaster died in 1952, Roth continued 'The Timid Soul' on his own. However, he passed away only a year later, bringing the series to a sudden end.


'The Timid Soul' from The Philadelphia Inquirer of 11 May 1953 and the Salt Lake Tribune of 10 November 1953 (published posthumously)

Book illustrations
Herb Roth often illustrated short stories by columnists. His illustrated stories by Samuel Cahan were later compiled in the book 'Dust of New York' (Boni & Liveright, 1919). He was most prominent as the regular illustrator of Donald Ogden Stewart, livening up the pages of his novels 'Aunt Polly's Story of Mankind' (1923), 'Mr. and Mrs. Haddock Abroad' (1924), 'The Crazy Fool' (1925) and 'Mr. and Mrs. Haddock in Paris, France' (1926). Stewart also once parodied H.G. Wells' serious-minded book 'The Outline of History' (1919) as 'A Parody Outline of History' (1921), again with illustrations by Roth.

Most books illustrated by Roth were humorous in nature, including reprints of Rudolph Raspe's classic novel 'The Adventures of Baron Munchausen' and Benjamin Franklin's 'On the Choice of a Mistress and Other Satires and Hoaxes'. His artwork adorned Gelett Burgess' 'Burgess Unabridged: A New Dictionary of Words You Have Always Needed' (1914) and 'Why Men Hate Women...' (Brentano Ltd. 1928). Other titles in the same genre were Frank William Johnston's 'The Fun of Being a Fat Man' (1922), Lowell Thomas' 'Tall Stories' (Funk and Wagnalls, 1931), John T. Winterich's 'Mademoiselle From Armentieres' (1953) and 'Peter Pauper's Limerick Book' (Pauper Press, New York, 1954). The artist also provided images for the book 'There's Not a Bathing Suit in Russia & Other Bare Facts' (Albert & Charles Boni, 1927), written by popular comedian Will Rogers. Rogers wrote the foreword to Karl K. Kitchen's 'Pleasure - If Possible: A Passport to the Gay Life Abroad' (Chanticleer Books, New York, 1928), which also featured artwork by Roth.

A more serious book with artwork by Roth was 'Shake 'Em Up!: A Practical Handbook of Polite Drinking' (1930), written by Virginia D. Elliott and Phil D. Strong. The book featured tips for parties, cocktail recipes and remedies in case of hangovers. Since the work came out when Prohibition was still in effect in the United States, page 68 was censored by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York for featuring a recipe on how to make gin. Roth visualized another recipe book, 'Cooking to Kill: The Poison Cook – Book' (Peter Pauper Press, 1951), by Ebenezer Murgatroyd. He provided woodcut art for Henry Reed Stiles' 'Bundling - Its Origins, Progress and Decline in America' (Peter Pauper Press, 1937).


'Mighty Mouse' sample strip by Herb Roth (1947). Note the misspelling of Terrytoons as 'Terrytoon's'. 

Mighty Mouse
Herb Roth was a good friend of fellow cartoonists Mel Cummin and Paul Terry. In fact, Roth and Terry were neighbors in Larchmont, New York. In July 1922, Terry was also best man at Roth's wedding. Although Terry was a notable newspaper cartoonist in the 1910s, he soon left his pencil alone to become a successful animation producer. In 1942, the Terrytoons Studio scored a huge hit with their animated 'Mighty Mouse' series, featuring a super strong mouse who always comes to the rescue in the nick of time. Dell Comics published several comic books with the character. In 1947, Herb Roth was approached to draw a Sunday newspaper comic based on 'Mighty Mouse'. He created two adventure stories, but there are no records whether they were ever syndicated.

Mighty Mouse by Herb Roth
'Mighty Mouse', 1947. 

As animation critic Charles Solomon observed in his book 'Enchanted Drawings' (1989), the 'Mighty Mouse' cartoons suffered from having an undeveloped star. Usually, superhero stories give audiences a glimpse in the secret double life of the hero. This gives him more personality and the ability to identify with his struggles. However, the 'Mighty Mouse' cartoons all start off with a problematic situation that fills up most of the short's running time. Only in the last minute, the heroic mouse turns up out of nowhere and effortlessly saves the day. This leaves audiences with little insight in his personality. Herb Roth faced the same problem when making his newspaper comic. He basically mimicked the paper thin rescue plots, not really knowing what else to do with the character. Other than that, Roth had trouble keeping Mighty Mouse "on model". The drawings often look stiff. This seems the obvious reason why the comics never seem to have appeared in print. It even remains unknown whether there was even an attempt to syndicate them. Perhaps the samples were already rejected by Paul Terry himself. Or possibly Roth himself felt unsatisfied with the results and the comics never even left his personal drawer.

Either way, on 11 March 2013, animation historian Jerry Beck shared Roth's 'Mighty Mouse' comics on his website cartoonresearch.com. They quickly gained viral attention for their odd, somewhat charming naïve look.

Final years and death
Although he mostly lived in Larchmont, New York City, Herb Roth was a seasonal resident of Delray Beach, Florida, that had a lively artists' and writer's colony. In October 1953, he died in New York City, at the age of 66.


Railroad cartoon from 1914, depicting Mike de Young, Otis Spreckels, and John D. Spreckels.

Roth on the Stripper's Guide
More samples of Roth's Mighty Mouse

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