Roy Doty: Now This Is What We Call a Career

November 14th, 2011 by IMAGE Magazine
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Roy Doty

There’s no question that alumnus Roy Doty (CCAD 1942) is still going strong. Even as he approached his 90th birthday this fall, Inspired Lines, an exhibition featuring 60 pieces of his work, opened at The Ohio State University’s Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum, the largest and most comprehensive academic research facility for cartoon art in the world.

Before the opening, he completed more than 130 full-page, four-color illustrations for an upcoming economics textbook. When asked about his workload, he says with a humble shrug and his signature grin, “I stay busy.”

Which, of course, is a very large understatement. In his 65-year career, Doty has written more than 30 books; illustrated 167; had illustrations featured in the New York Times, Newsweek, Fortune, Business Week, Popular Science, and Elle; and deployed his talents on behalf of advertising clients including Mobil Oil, Macy’s, CBS, Black & Decker, and Ford.

This year, Doty became one of only 13 individuals ever honored with the National Cartoonist Society’s Gold Key award—considered the cartoonists’ hall of fame. But, he says, “The truth is, I’m still trying to be good. No piece is ever good enough. I finish it, and I look at it a year later and say ‘why the hell didn’t I do this?’ Deep down, I’m still trying to be good.”

The story of how Doty got from high school to CCAD to his own freelance studio is best told in his own voice.

“When I was in high school, I drew like every cartoonist,” he says. “Fortunately, I had a good art teacher in high school who thought I was a genius painter, so she sent my paintings to what is now CCAD, and they awarded me a two-year full scholarship, which meant a lot then. After all, this was the Great Depression.”

“I was taught by, among others, Alice Schille, and I can say that my color is only brilliant because of her. But I had the same problem at CCAD that I had when I was in high school: they all wanted me to be a great painter—because back then there was only a fine arts major—but all I ever wanted to do was draw cartoons. I drove them crazy because I was so sure of what I wanted to be.”

“I graduated in 1942 just months after Pearl Harbor, and two days later I ran off with a classmate, Louella Vance, to Chicago to get married. By the end of the year, though, I had been drafted into the Army. In the fifth week of my basic training, I was taken out of the Air Corps and sent first to New Jersey, then to a private mansion on the beach in Georgia.”

“I was a radar man, part of the top secret radar division. While I was there, I was drawing Why We Fight for the camp newspaper, which ran in all Air Force camp newsletters. Then I was flown to New York City, placed on the Queen Mary, and I was now stationed in Paris, living as a cartoonist, drawing for Overseas Woman, Stars and Stripes, and more.”

It was in Paris that Doty developed the style of cartooning that has defined his career—fine lines, bold color, and a lot of detail.

“I left Ohio doing ‘big foot art,’ and I got to Europe doing that,” Doty says. “But all of the artists I was working with in Paris were decorating the page, and I said, ‘You don’t need balloons, gags, or captions to tell a story. You can do without it and still get the laugh. And that is an absolute joy.’”

When the war was over, Doty was discharged with “a nice portfolio and $350 in pay.” He returned to Columbus just long enough to purchase a ticket to New York City and divorce his wife. “She had found religion, and I had found four-letter words; so we parted ways with a kiss, and we always remained friends.”

“The truth is, I came out of the Army wanting to change the world, and I was sure I would,” Doty says. “I came out with something new, and that’s why I got work—because I could take the dullest copy in the world and get a laugh out of it. I started freelancing 65 years ago and haven’t had a job since.”

“I’ve never had a bad year, a slow year. I’ve never been ‘unbusy.’ I’m still busy, and I love it. I work seven days a week. I went to bed at midnight last night, and I’ll go to bed at midnight tonight. What do I have to complain about? As long as I am drawing pictures, I am totally happy. Until I drop dead, I’ll be drawing pictures.”

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Published in print twice a year, CCAD’s IMAGE magazine shares stories about our creative community, whether here in Columbus or around the world—what we’re doing, thinking, and planning next. The IMAGE blog brings those stories online for transmission at the click of a mouse.

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One Response to “Roy Doty: Now This Is What We Call a Career”

  1. John Armstrong says:

    He started doing things at Medary Elementary School. Long before high school.
    His talent was there early. He still had to be the one to find it though, and he did. For all of us who treasure knowing him, and who get to see that flow of “the really deep feelings within life itself” that escape most people until they see what he brings to them.
    So few see so much in life.