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The Boston Globe

Obituaries

Al Ross, 100, longtime cartoonist for New Yorker

Al ross/new yorker collection

Al ross/new yorker collection

The cartoons of Al Ross relied partly on timeliness, psychological astuteness, and silliness.

NEW YORK - Al Ross, whose droll cartoons featuring married couples, bar habitues, anthropomorphic animals, philosophizing prisoners, art and publishing world denizens, anachronistic mythological figures, and loyal Mets fans appeared in The New Yorker for more than 60 years, died Thursday in the Bronx.

His death was confirmed by his son David.

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Mr. Ross, 100, who was born Abraham Roth, was one of four cartooning brothers who began publishing in the 1930s in magazines such as Collier’s, Esquire, and The Saturday Evening Post. Two were known as Irving Roir and Salo. The only brother who did not change his name professionally was Ben Roth.

Much of the brothers’ early work was battle-of-the-sexes oriented and aligned with the sexist conventions of the day. One of Mr. Ross’s cartoons shows men at a strip club with their faces turned from the performer to watch a more shapely waitress.

“I think the four of them had something to do with the feminist revolt,’’ David Roth said. “But you know, their inspirations were their wives.’’

Mr. Ross, the most successful of the four, was also the best draftsman. A devotee of 20th-century painting - his work was in the Abstract Expressionist mode. He had a particular affinity for Picasso’s work. One cartoon shows a figure borrowed from “Guernica,’’ seemingly drowning, with the caption “Incident off the Spanish coast.’’

He had a full-bodied illustrator’s style at the beginning of his career that became looser, more minimalist, and more suggestive. His work first appeared in The New Yorker in 1937, and over the years he mastered the wry, arched-eyebrow sensibility of the magazine’s cartoons, and its signature wit, which speaks to an affluent, sophisticated readership and relies on erudition, timeliness, psychological astuteness, and silliness.

Al Ross

“He was a very talented draftsman who seldom made a preliminary sketch; he’d sit down with a pen and just do it,’’ said Lee Lorenz, a cartoonist who was the art editor at The New Yorker from the 1950s into the ’70s. “He valued that spontaneity, which was very much in his character. And he had very good ideas.’’

To wit:

- Atlas sits on a barstool hunched over a drink, his globe unshouldered and perched next to him on the bar.

- The pointillist painter George Seurat in bed with the measles, his face dotted, with the caption: “Historic moment in Post-Impressionism.’’

- “Damn it with faint praise,’’ advises the devil, standing over the shoulder of an editor considering a manuscript.

- “What I like about him is he never tells you to stay in line,’’ a sheep says to another sheep about the shepherd, “he asks you to stay in line.’’

- A well-dressed middle-aged man and his wife on a stroll through the woods. A sign says “Memory Lane.’’ “Stroll down it alone,’’ he says. “I’ll wait here.’’

- A doctor with a stethoscope to the chest of a patient. The patient says: “Forget about me, Doc. What’s wrong with the Mets?’’

Mr. Ross was born Oct. 19, 1911. Most sources say he was born in Vienna, but his son said he was born in Romania and lived in Vienna as a boy.

Mr. Ross was one of five children of Reuben Roth, a military man who served in the cavalry of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Fleeing the persecution of Jews, Reuben Roth immigrated to the United States after World War I, and the entire family followed, settling in what is now Spanish Harlem in the early 1920s.

Young Abraham dropped out of school in eighth grade and during the Depression worked as a messenger in the button business. In their 20s, the brothers studied drawing at the Art Students League.

Mr. Ross’s books of cartoons included “Sexcapades: The Love Life of the Modern Homo Sapiens,’’ and he was author of the guide “Cartooning Fundamentals.’’ He outlived his brothers and his sister, Ann, who was a bookkeeper. His wife, the former Sylvia Heller, whom he married in 1937, died in 2006.

In addition to David, a painter, Mr. Ross leaves another son, Arlen, a guitarist; four grandchildren; two step-grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

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