Pulitzer-winning cartoonist Paul Conrad dies at 86
LOS ANGELES (AP) – Paul Conrad used his pencil like a weapon. His long lines and jagged angles seemed to point directly at the leaders he deemed charlatans and fools in need of deflating.
In a career of more than 50 years he won three Pulitzer Prizes, made Richard Nixon’s enemies list and ruined Ronald Reagan’s breakfast.
The political cartoonist with an unmistakable style died at 86 Saturday at his home in the Los Angeles suburb of Rancho Palos Verdes surrounded by his family, his son David Conrad said. The death was from natural causes, David Conrad said, but he did not offer specifics.
Paul Conrad took on U.S. presidents from Harry S. Truman to George W. Bush, mostly in the Los Angeles Times, where he worked for 30 years and helped the newspaper raise its national profile.
He was fierce in his liberalism and expressed it with a stark, powerful visual style. Southern California political junkies for decades would start their day either outraged or delighted at a Conrad drawing.
The Times said in a Saturday story that its longtime publisher came to expect that his breakfast would be interrupted by an angry phone call from then-governor Reagan or wife Nancy, peeved by a Conrad cartoon that made them look foolish.
Conrad’s favorite target was Nixon. At the time of the president’s resignation, Conrad drew Nixon’s helicopter leaving the White House with the caption: “One flew over the cuckoo’s nest.”
“He always said he was most proud of being on Nixon’s enemies list,” David Conrad said.
In a 2006 interview with The Associated Press, Conrad compared his favorite target to then-president George W. Bush.
“I felt two ways about Nixon. First, how did an idiot like that become president,” said Conrad, a Cedar Rapids, Iowa, native. “And, secondly, how soon can we get rid of him. Almost the same thing applies to Bush.”
One of Conrad’s final images showed Bush as Sisyphus, rolling a huge boulder labeled “Iraq” up a hill.
Democratic politicians weren’t safe from his barbs either.
After Jimmy Carter admitted that at times he had “lusted in his heart,” Conrad drew him mentally undressing the Statue of Liberty.
Conrad and his identical twin James were born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in 1924, the sons of a railroad worker who dabbled in art. The Times said Conrad later joked that his first political cartoon was a scrawl on the bathroom wall at his elementary school.
After serving in the Pacific during World War II in the Army Corps of Engineers, he majored in art at the University of Iowa, and an old family friend convinced him to draw cartoons for the college paper.
His first job after college was at the Denver Post, where he worked for 14 years before moving to Los Angeles.
Conrad worked in the heyday of political cartoonists, and he was among the elite.
His total of three Pulitzers is matched by just two other cartoonists in the Post-World War II era.
By late in his life, only a small number of newspapers had cartoonists on staff, and many of them had abandoned the traditional single-panel image for a comic-strip approach that Conrad disdained.
“It’s dialogue, long conversations, from one panel to another,” Conrad told the AP. “Some have a political point but when you get finished reading them you knew that in the beginning. So what am I doing reading ’em?”
Conrad’s drawings were anything but busy or complex. They were always a single panel and often a single figure, rendered in sharp, long lines that made his subjects look bony and sometimes sinister. He rarely used dialogue and kept words to a minimum.
“Conrad’s work is immediate. It’s high impact. There’s emotion in it. If he were a boxer, he’d be giving body blows,” Denver Post cartoonist Mike Keefe told the AP in 2006.
And despite the humor in a lot of his work, Conrad’s style had a seriousness that other cartoonists lacked.
As narrator in a PBS documentary on Conrad, Tom Brokaw said: “Every line he draws cries out to the powers that be, ‘We’re watching you.”‘
In addition to David, Paul Conrad is survived by another son, two daughters, and his wife of more than 60 years, Kay.
Memorial plans were still uncertain, David Conrad said.