Hard messages through elegant art
Marking the passing of a Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist whose political outlook was as bold and incisive as his artwork.
A LONGTIME editorial cartoonist who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1983, Richard E. “Dick” Locher also worked on the globally popular comic strip Dick Tracy for more than three decades, both writing and drawing the adventures of the square-jawed private detective.
Locher, 88, died of complications from Parkinson’s disease last week at Edward Hospital in Naperville, Illinois, said his son, Stephen. The artist had lived in Naperville for more than 45 years.
“Dick was one of the best cartoonists in America,” says Tribune editor and publisher Bruce Dold.
“I most admired the richness of detail in his drawings. His work was funny and incisive and his message often carried a hard pop, but his artwork was always incredibly elegant.”
Born and raised in Dubuque, Iowa, Locher graduated from Loras Academy in Dubuque and then studied at Loras College, the University of Iowa, and the Art Center of Los Angeles before earning a degree from the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts.
He spent two years on active duty as a test pilot in the US Air Force, followed by another 18 years in the Air Force Reserve.
While a Chicago Academy of Fine Arts student in 1957, Locher was tapped to do some inking for Chester Gould, the creator of the Dick Tracy strip. He went on to work as Gould’s assistant for the next four years.
“He had regimented working requirements,” Locher says of Gould in a 1981 Tribune interview. “Be in at 7.30am every morning, have everything completed by Friday, no excuses.”
Locher left Gould’s employ in 1961 and eventually headed an art studio called Novamark. In 1973, despite having no experience as an editorial cartoonist, Locher was hired by the Tribune .He remained on staff until his retirement in 2013, producing more than 10,000 drawings on a raft of topics.
“That’s a whole lot of getting mad six times a week,” Locher quipped to the Tribune upon his retirement.
Tribune editorial cartoonist Scott Stantis says Locher’s work “had a level of certitude reserved for very fine artists”.
“Every line had a confidence that separates the good from the great,” Stantis says. “Conceptually, you never had to guess where Dick stood on the issues. His political outlook was as bold and straightforward as his artwork – the perfect combination that all editorial cartoonists strive for.”
Locher won the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning with work that weighed in on then US President Ronald Reagan – with whom the artist once dined in the Oval Office – home computers and the Middle East.
“I’m still numb. I’m still waiting for someone to come in and say they made a mistake,” Locher said upon learning he had won.
“My first thoughts were that someone was playing a terrible, cruel gag.
“This sounds hackneyed, but I’m really proud the Tribune won a Pulitzer. I always thought it was an East Coast institution, and I’m glad to see it made it all the way to the Midwest.”
Locher was pulled back into Dick Tracy’s orbit in 1983 after the death of Rick Fletcher, who had taken over when Gould retired in 1977.
Locher continued drawing the strip until 2009 and kept writing the storyline until in 2011.
Over the years, Locher’s longtime hometown of Naperville became closely associated with the character Dick Tracy. In 1990, the city’s new police station placed large displays of both the cartoon and the movie (released that year) in its lobby. And in 2010, a nearly 3m-tall statue of Tracy was placed on the Riverwalk in Naperville. Locher created 27cm model for the sculpture and also helped select its location.
He also designed a sculpture of Naperville founder Joseph Naper, which stands at the site of Naper’s homestead.
Francie Wehrli Chirico, a longtime family friend who works for Naperville Township, says the Dick Tracy statue remains a popular draw in town. “A lot of visitors come here to Naperville to see it,” she says.
Locher’s son John was a cartoonist who worked with his father on Dick Tracy until his sudden death in 1986 at age 25. In his honour, Locher created the John Locher Award for college cartoonists.
Locher served on the board of trustees for Benedictine University in Lisle and also received honorary degrees from Loras College and Benedictine University.
In addition to his son, Locher is survived by his wife of 60 years, Mary; a daughter, Jan Evans; a brother, Bob; a sister, Carolyn Holubar; five grandchildren; and one great-grandson. – Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service
This cartoon, published on March 17, 1982, is among several of Locher’s works to be cited by the Pulitzer Prize committee.
Locher in his home studio in 2011. He wrote and drew the square-jawed American detective (inset, below) for the internationally syndicated Dick
strip for decades. — Photos: TNS