Obscurity of the Day: Oh, That New York! What It Doesn’t Do To You!

Herb Roth is best known for his book and magazine cartoons, as well as being the assistant/ghost to H.T. Webster. Here, though, is an early work in comic strip form. In fact, it’s the only continuing comic strip that I have been able to document by this otherwise very prolific artist.

Roth obviously wasn’t trying to conserve printer’s ink when he came up with the title Oh, That New York! What It Doesn’t Do To You!, and yes, every episode bore that rather ungainly title. The strip appeared on the second page of the New York World‘s Sunday Metropolitan section (we’d call it an arts and entertainment section these days) from January 12 through March 23 1913.

The title was the only ungainly thing about this strip. The art, sort of an art deco meets cubist meets naive style that Roth used to good effect for years, was already in full flower, a real delight to behold. Startlingly modern for newspaper art in 1912, it apparently seemed so sophisticated to the World’s editors that it deserved a special place of honor in a section otherwise illustrated with glamorous photos of Broadway stars and reproductions of great artworks.

The strip chronicled the travails of those who visited or moved to the Big Apple. Roth, like most New Yorkers, seemed to revel in the unhealthy conditions, high prices, crime and assorted other blights of New York, essentially daring visitors to make it ‘like us’ in the big city. In Roth’s comic strip none are successful, always hightailing it out of town at the end of the strip. New Yorkers were and still are a special breed, button-busting proud of the city that they proudly proclaim is a hellhole worse than the prison of Calcutta.

In response I say to New Yorkers, “have you visited Gary Indiana lately?”

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