This year, as our annual Christmas gift to Hogan’s Alley readers, we are proud to present a collection of the Christmas card art of Roy Doty. Doty, who has been a freelance cartoonist and illustrator since 1946, also that year drew a Christmas card to send to friends and colleagues, and he has drawn one each year since. Masterpieces of intricate design, the cards are both fascinating to study and compelling in their restless invention. We recently spoke with Doty about his yuletide labor of love, and we’re pleased to present the conversation here.
Hogan’s Alley: The first impression upon looking at your cards in one sitting is that producing these cards represents an enormous effort! When do you begin working on each year’s card?
Roy Doty: I really start thinking about them in September, with the constant fear that there is no new idea for a Christmas card. The right, or wrong, idea usually goes concrete about Nov. 1, then I go to work on the card until it’s finished. I try to avoid doing any kind of “gag” card–I’m really not a gag cartoonist, though I’ve done them many times. I try to design something new that is funny, enjoyable and different and has some design value. Sometimes I make it…sometimes I don’t. Never really happy when I’ve finished, but I try. Come to think about it, I feel that way about most of my drawings.
HA: When you began creating these cards more than 60 years ago, you probably had no idea what a monster you were creating!
Doty: When I did my first card in l946, the year I started freelancing in New York, all the artists did their own cards at Christmas. It was a tradition to do so. Over the years fewer and fewer cartoonists do them, though there have been more of them lately now that they can print them out from their computers.
HA: Now it’s something of a privilege to be on Roy Doty’s Christmas card list. How many correspondents are you up to each year?
Doty: Well, the list keeps growing. I guess most of the people on my original list are dead now, but new friends and clients grow every year. One of the problems is both a sad and a joyful one. Many cartoonists die, and before the next Christmas I get a letter from their widows that they’ d like to be kept on the list. I love that–then the widows have passed on, and I get requests from their children to keep them on the list. So it grows and grows. This year’s list is just over the 500 mark, and I’m an old fashioned type: I still address them by hand like my mother told me to do with Christmas cards. Printing and postage are killing me, but it’s a wonderful feeling. One of the joys of Christmas.
HA: Of course, intricacy and detail have always been hallmarks of your work. Are there any cards that stand out for you in terms of the ambitiousness of their design or rendering?
Doty: No, I don’t have any favorite one. I just wish some of them had been better.
HA: You always stay plenty busy. Has there been a year when you confronted the possibility of just not being able to produce a new card that year?
Doty: I wouldn’t dream of not doing a card in the coming year ! Even if I only had a mailing list of twenty or so, I’d do a new one. Why should I give Hallmark more money? They never gave me any.
HA: You’re about to send out your 2008 card. How long until you start noodling out an idea for 2009? I guess that’s the price for beginning a cherished tradition–you have to keep it going!
Doty: Well, my mind already has an itch way back somewhere in my cerebellum sort of tinkling with a thought about next year’s card. I hope nothing jells…it might be better than this year’s card, and then I’d really hate myself.