Paul Conrad

  • Share
  • Read Later

A group of US cartoonists were once invited to have lunch with George H.W. Bush. Somehow the subject of beach balls came up, and from the far end of the table came Paul Conrad's voice: "Speaking of beach balls, Mr. President, how's Dan Quayle doing?"

Conrad, who died Sept. 4 at 86, was absolutely fearless--a volcano of opinion and assertion. He drew many famous political cartoons, like Nixon nailing himself to a cross, but his batting average was also extremely high. Day after day over his long career, which included nearly 30 years at the Los Angeles Times, his beautiful drawings in stark black and white were brutally honest. His work did not go unrewarded; he won three Pulitzers.

Conrad was a liberal and very concerned about civil and human rights. He was very much against the war in Vietnam, and his sense of morality was informed by his lifelong Catholicism. He enjoyed being on Nixon's enemies list immensely--we were all jealous of that--and was also extremely proud of having been awarded the Nixon Chair at Whittier College. It was the college's way of saying, "Yeah, we've got this chair, but that doesn't mean we're big fans of Richard Nixon."

I met him when I was 22. I called him up and said, "Mr. Conrad, sir, I'm a young would-be cartoonist. Would you look at my work?" And this booming voice says, "Come on down, kid!" So I traipsed down to the L.A. Times. He looked at my drawings and said, "They're not bad, kid." But he also said, "You're loving them to death. The cartoons have to look easy. They have to look like you got really pissed off and you sat down and drew this thing."

When I got my job in Philadelphia in 1971, I called Conrad to share my excitement. He listened in silence, and then he said, "Philadelphia. What was second prize?"

Auth, a Pulitzer Prize winner, is the staff editorial cartoonist at the Philadelphia Inquirer