Dream Job | Dick Locher

March 2016 View more

NMAG0316_DreamJob_nm dick locher 4_800pxDick Locher’s artistic talents and edgy humor have brought him more dream jobs than one could imagine. For 40 years he drew the Dick Tracy cartoon strip in the Chicago Tribune. He’s a Pulitzer Prize winning political cartoonist, an accomplished artist, plus he has designed two statues for the Century Walk in downtown Naperville—Dick Tracy and Joe Naper. Now at 86, the Naperville resident keeps busy working on a coffee table book and occasionally drawing for the Chicago Tribune. Locher may appear a little more frail these days on the outside, but on the inside he’s as sharp as a brand new pencil fresh out of the box.

Drawing Dick Tracy cartoons would be a dream job for many aspiring artists. Would you say it was a dream job for you?

It was a plum. A hot chestnut! There was a lot of competition. When it was announced Chester Gould (who created the character) was leaving the Tribune, 276 people applied. My dad used to read the comic to me when I was a kid. At that time, I thought the pictures were as big as a license plate or a Hershey bar I was so small. I always knew I wanted to draw but I didn’t know you could actually make a living out of it. It’s been an exciting ride.

In addition to drawing Dick Tracy, you also produced four or five political cartoons a week. How difficult is that to do? Did you ever suffer from writer’s block?

You can be the best artist in the world, but to be a good cartoonist you have to be able to have a kicker at the end. You have to condition yourself. As James Thurber said to his wife: “If you walk into my office and I have my feet up on the desk and my hands behind my head don’t bother me, I’m working.” Political cartoons are like grapes. They come in bunches and don’t last long.

What’s the secret to being a good political cartoonist?

First, you have to be a good reporter. But the best thing is when someone tells you they’ve seen your work and say ‘I never thought of it that way.’

Being a cartoonist may be a dream job, but for some political cartoonists, they’re putting their life on the line. What are your thoughts about the shootings last year at Charlie Hebdo when cartoonist’s were killed by terrorists? Have you ever found yourself in danger?

Nothing should stop a cartoonist if he is willing to draw. You should stand up for your beliefs, not be too abusive, but get your point across. That’s important. You are no one until you’ve had a death threat. I once had a bodyguard for a week after someone called and threatened to kill me for a cartoon I drew about the U.S. sending money to the Middle East. The police tracked him down and we ended up talking it out.

Did being a political cartoonist lead you to any situations you wouldn’t have imagined?

Well I did meet Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. Reagan invited me and some other cartoonists to lunch at the White House in 1986. We talked about everything. We even got in a little fight with jelly beans (which the President famously enjoyed). It was only on the way back on the plane that I realized I hadn’t taken a souvenir away from the White House like a pen or a napkin. As I was complaining about this to the flight attendant, I put my hand in my pocket and pulled out one orange jelly bean, so I had my souvenir after all.

Photo by Robyn Sheldon