- Longtime editorial cartoonist for the Denver Post and Los Angeles Times
Paul Francis Conrad was born in June 1924 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He served in the U.S. Army during World War II and received a B.A. in art in 1950. His first professional job as an editorial cartoonist was with the Denver Post, where he spent 14 years until the Los Angeles Times hired him in 1964. Conrad stayed with the Times until his retirement 29 years later. Outspoken and forthright about his leftist politics, Conrad said: “Don’t ever accuse me of being objective.”
Famous for his withering attacks on political figures – especially conservatives – Conrad believed that the best cartoons were those that contained no words at all, using only pictures to depict what Conrad called the “political, social and moral injustices” of our time.
When it came to commenting on American culture, Conrad focused largely on the negative. In a cartoon that appeared shortly after the 1965 Watts riots in California, for instance, Conrad drew a group of white men gathered around a black man who was seated on a therapist’s couch, saying to him: “You’ve mentioned unemployment, housing, education, police brutality and despair … but, what was the reason for the riot?”
Conrad gained his greatest renown for the way he skewered particular high-profile political figures. So searing were his depictions of President Richard Nixon, for instance, that they earned the cartoonist a spot on Nixon’s infamous “enemies list” in 1973 – a distinction Conrad welcomed as a sure sign of his own effectiveness. In one particularly famous cartoon, Conrad portrayed an agitated Nixon sitting, with pen in hand, at a large desk covered by long, serpentine scrolls of names – titled “Enemies List.” The caption of the cartoon read, “His Own Worst Enemy.” As James Rainey of the L.A. Times observed, Conrad’s renderings of Nixon invariably showed the President with “brow furrowed, eyes ringed with dark shadows, head slumped into rounded shoulders – helping to cement the image of a desperate, paranoid chief executive.”
Following Nixon’s precipitous fall from grace in the Watergate affair, Conrad’s attacks on him became still more relentless. After Nixon’s death in 1994, Conrad became incensed upon hearing anyone utter even the barest praise for the deceased former President. “I think it’s sick,” fumed Conrad. “We know what the bastard did.” Conrad penned his own eulogy for Nixon: a cartoon drawing of the late president’s gravestone with the inscription: “Here lies Richard Nixon” – suggesting that Nixon’s mendacity would persist for all eternity.
Conrad also openly detested Ronald Reagan. The cartoonist’s antipathy for Reagan actually had its roots in the 1960s, when the latter began his tenure as governor of California. At that time, Conrad depicted the actor-turned-politician as a bumbling, intellectually deficient, mean-spirited individual who understood nothing about the concerns of ordinary folk, and who had stumbled into politics only as a fortuitous result of his celebrity.
When Reagan in 1973 proposed a ballot measure to restructure the tax system of California, Conrad depicted the governor as “Reagan Hood,” soaking the poor in order to give to the rich. After Reagan’s election to the Oval Office in 1980, Conrad condemned the president’s military buildup as a foolhardy endeavor whose funding was made possible only by draconian cuts to vital social-welfare programs.
When it came to international conflicts involving the United States, Conrad generally viewed America as the antagonist. He also held a negative view of Israel, which he depicted as an egregious abuser of human rights and an agent of mass murder. In the early 1980s Conrad drew a Star of David formed by the corpses of Palestinian men, women and children. In a 2002 cartoon, Conrad showed an Israeli airplane flying directly toward a pair of high-rise mosques bearing an unmistakable resemblance to the Twin Towers that had once stood in lower Manhattan.
During his 43 years as an editorial cartoonist, Conrad won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning in 1964, 1971 and 1984. He also won two Overseas Press Club awards (1970 and 1981). Conrad died on September 4, 2010.
Adapted from “A Cartoonish Worldview,” by John Perazzo on September 13, 2010.