NOT TOO many comic artists attain one world-class career, let alone sustain two. But then, Dick Locher, the former Air Force test pilot turned “Dick Tracy” cartoonist, was a rare bird.
It was 60 years ago that “Dick Tracy” creator Chester Gould tapped Locher to be his inking assistant on the strip. “I got to work with a legend while creating an icon,” Locher would say.
Gould would again prove crucial to his career 17 years later, when he recommended that the Chicago Tribune hire Locher to be its new political cartoonist — despite Locher’s utter lack of experience in that arena.
A decade later, Locher would win the Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning, for a portfolio that spanned President Ronald Reagan, technology and conflict in the Mideast.
Richard E. “Dick” Locher died Sunday of complications from Parkinson’s disease in his longtime hometown of Naperville, Ill., according to his son, Stephen. He was 88.
Locher, whose politics leaned right, is remembered for both his elegance of line and grace of spirit. Tribune editor and publisher Bruce Dold called him “one of the best cartoonists in the nation” as well as “one of the nicest people who ever walked through the Tribune newsroom.”
“I really loved that guy,” current Chicago Tribune cartoonist Scott Stantis tells The Washington Post. “You always came away from spending time with him feeling happy. His friendship always felt like a special privilege.”
Stantis relished visiting Locher at home and hearing his stories. “What a life! Fighter pilot. Successful commercial artist. Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist — who once had a private lunch in the Oval Office with President Reagan,” Stantis says. “All of this, and he was still the most grounded person you could ever know.”
Locher was born in 1929 in Dubuque, Iowa, where he studied at Loras College before heading to the Art Center of Los Angeles. Then, while earning his degree at Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, Locher was hired by Gould for what become a four-year run on helping to produce “Dick Tracy.”
Two decades later, Locher was asked to return to the iconic comic strip, which he then drew until 2009 and scripted until 2011.
“It’s time to move on to other things,” Locher told Comic Riffs in 2011 upon hanging up his yellow comic-strip fedora. “It’s time to do normal things with my family, to travel, to paint in the American Southwest.”
Locher turned over the still-popular strip to artist Joe Staton and writer Mike Curtis.
Locher stayed on staff at the Tribune till 2013, having created more than 10,000 cartoons upon his retirement. “That’s a whole lot of getting mad six times a week,” Locher told the Trib at the time.
“I spent a few hours [Monday] scanning some of his early cartoons from the ’70s and early ’80’s,” Stantis says, “and it reminded me of just how great his work was.”
“We all marveled at Dick’s talent,” says Steve Breen, the Pulitzer-winning cartoonist for the San Diego Union-Tribune. “He was as skilled at painting and sculpture as he was at cartooning. A lot of us try other mediums, but Dick truly mastered these things.
“I especially loved his draftsmanship and his copious use of black ink,” Breen continues. “This gave his cartoons a nice, heavy look. But there was nothing heavy about Dick.”
Dick Locher is survived by his wife, Mary; a son and a daughter; a sister; five grandchildren, and one great grandson.
Mr. Locher’s son John, also a cartoonist, died in 1986, at age 25. The John Locher Memorial Award, which was founded that year by the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists, continues to honor aspiring college-age cartoonists.