It was almost 20 years ago that cartoonist Arnold Roth's bold strokes first appeared in the pages of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. Since then, Art Director Dick Gangel has kept Roth busy illustrating stories on everything from golf to drag racing. It had gotten so that Roth thought he had done it all. Then we told him, "Fleas, please," which meant we needed some illustrations for Bil Gilbert's essay this week on the itchy little critters (I've Got You Under My Skin, page 30). Roth's reaction was circumspect but normal: he scratched his head. Then he began scratching all over. That is Roth you see, still scratching, in the accompanying self-portrait.
An assignment like this one might have gotten a lesser man down, but Roth merely bit his lip and sought out the society of every beast of dubious hygiene in his neighborhood. It was not exactly the kind of research an artist longs for, but Roth says that such assiduity is the inevitable result of working for Gangel. "When Dick makes an assignment he assumes the work will be top quality," says Roth, "and being well over six feet tall, he gets it—especially from us little artists. The rewarding thing about working for Gangel is that he allows artists full expression, even though he knows we are mentally and morally inchoate, self-pitying, snivelingly dressed and, when he needs us, never at the bars where we say we always hang out."
Roth does most of his hanging out at his home in Princeton, N.J., where he also keeps a studio, a wife named Caroline, two kids and, these days, a few fleas. Every chance Roth gets, he takes off for his native Philadelphia to watch the Phillies play. "I avoid drawing whenever I can," he says. Shirking work, however, is something at which Roth has failed so miserably that last year he won the National Cartoonists Society awards as the Best Sports Cartoonist and Best Cartoonist Illustrator. "They are very high honors," says Roth, obviously pretty choked up about it, "because the awards were given by my colleagues—degenerate cartoonists."
It might be expected that between drawing and scratching, scratching and drawing, Roth would be too busy for much else. Not so. An accomplished saxophone player since boyhood, Roth is a big noise in an eight-piece jazz band that performs regularly at New York's Gramercy Park Players club, as well as at most SI parties. Arnold is also available for solo performances at bar mitzvahs, christenings and Phillie games—but only if they make it to the World Series this fall. "Write this down," Roth said recently to no one in particular, "I'm the Benny Goodman of cartooning; musically, I'm a stiff."
Well, scratch a cartoonist and he bleeds ink. Scratch Roth...please!