October 21, 2014
Art, politics, angels, demons . . . and righteous dogs.

Paul Conrad

Paul Conrad, who we lost this weekend, was an idol to me and all caricaturists and cartoonists who wondered at the power of ink on paper as a force in the world.  I slotted in here his Nixon as Richard III, a favorite of mine. His lines were simple but contained great energy and unraveled anger.  He, Mauldin and Herblock were the big three who went into battle in America’s clearest moments of truth.  Media played an important role.  It was fact-based then.  All three men had the power of major high circulation dailies behind them.  There isn’t an equivalent today.  LBJ and Nixon had as much to fear from the cartoonists as they did from the great editorial and column writers of the day. And Vietnam, Watergate and Jim Crow America were clear and vitally important targets.  Conrad did us proud.  And inspired this artist among many others.  Below is the LA Times remembrance by his friend Tim Rutten and the complete doc on Paul by Barbara Multer and Jeffrey Abelson. Happy to present it here.  Remembering Conrad today and always.

Paul Conrad was powerful, inspiring — and a friend

By Tim Rutten

He never lost his sense of outrage.

My friend Paul Conrad, who died Saturday at 86, was the premier editorial cartoonist of his generation and, for many years, this newspaper’s most visible public face. Outrage informed his journalism and animated his art. He woke up each morning angry about some new injustice and allowed sleep to overtake him each night only so that he could get up mad the next day and do it all again.

He was always and everywhere on the side of decency and ordinary men and women. His targets were the self-satisfied powerful, those indifferent to or antagonistic to our common good, and they included presidents — as in these cartoons — as well as governors, mayors, popes and corporate executives. Among his proudest accomplishments was making Richard Nixon’s enemies list.

Conrad had the strength to speak out so forcefully — through his incomparable drawings — because he was, in Yeats’ phrase, a “rooted man.” His values were rooted in the New Deal’s politics of remedy, in the social gospel of his Catholic faith and in the experience of the family he treasured beyond all else. The astonishing thing about his three Pulitzer Prizes was that he won them in three decades that were among the most tumultuous in modern American history. His willingness to engage our common condition, intensely and personally, was a hallmark of his work.

For those of us who came of age on The Times in the 1970s, he was an inspiration. Those of us who worked with him got up each morning hoping we’d live up to his example and knowing we’d fall short.

Comments

  1. Victor Juhasz says:

    Fine, respectful drawing of Conrad there, Steve. We should all hope to live to be 86 and still full of piss, vinegar and inspiration.

  2. Steve says:

    Thanks Vic. I remember so vividly seeing his work and getting swept away. Sorry I never met him, but feel I really did. This film gets you up close and personal. Thanking the two filmmakers here!

  3. Chip says:

    sb, when you, as a gifted artist-cartoonist, express your gratitude to conrad, it says a lot about you. conrad was a decent man and he tried to do good. but he was not a very good poltical cartoonist even though his artistic skills were adequate and he had opinions. the majority of the cartoons that he produced were obvious, trite and, too often, sanctimonious. he frequently re-used the same devices or puns to make his point. he was not in the same league as herblock, mauldin, ramirez, oliphant or edward sorel, another under-appreciated but much-imitated genius. conrad was more like trudeau: very often, the same self-congratulatory, sophomoric stuff, dished out in the same way, day after day.

    a great political cartoonist is one who has some unique insight and who has the requisite artistic/creative gifts to present that insight to his audience in an engaging way. s/he illuminates a problem or issue in a novel way. s/he eschews the obvious and the pieties of his/her audience or the broader public. it takes no genius or insight or courage to ridicule reagan or gwb or jerry falwell, etc., etc. in the same tiresome and often moronic way. besides massaging the audience, it does nothing.

  4. Steve says:

    Chip:
    This is a matter of perception. This work is not to everyone’s taste, but what is. It is also important to remember that this art is woven into its time. There is no guarantee it would escape to the future with its power intact. It has this for me but I was around then and remember the impact it had. These techniques need to be redefined with each generation anyway. The other people you mentioned were and are also great. But for a daily guy in a big city paper, especially LA, Conrad was without peer. What he did was especially hard and highly accomplished. As far was what it says about me, well everything conceivable has been said, so have at it. It doesn’t matter.
    SB

  5. Paul Combs says:

    Well said, Steve!

  6. Steve says:

    Grazie!

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