Dick Kulpa’s cartoons and illustrations have appeared in a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites, locally, nationally and around the world, since 1969. For aspiring as well as practicing cartoonists, Kulpa says one need not be syndicated — or embedded on a major daily — to enjoy extraordinary success. There’s a whole lot of fun to be had in the process. For kids looking for relief from bullying, you may find some helpful stuff. Following is Dick’s story.
By DICK KULPA
During my political cartoon days, I viewed my prime directive as contributing toward the sale of my host newspaper. Simultaneously, cartoons served to express my points of view, and a variety of formats were used to accomplish this. I sought not to make people laugh; my goal was to make people mad, sad or glad, depending on the issue.
Putting theory into practice, I generally accomplished both goals, dating way back to 1969. In fact, the desire to do that got pounded into me back in high school!
Fact is, I actually wanted to draw superhero comics, not this boring political stuff. At age 16, I approached my hometown weekly with comic strip ideas — and was summarily brushed off. “But,” the graying editor said between pipe puffs, “I AM interested in political cartoons.”
OK, I was already doing these for my high school newspaper (they didn’t want super hero comics either!) Acquiescing to the editor’s request, I drove home in my $20 1960 Chevy “Double Eagle” and felt-tipped out a dozen cartoons — redrawing some after I inadvertently set them inside a water-filled tray. Upon delivery four days later, he actually liked them. So much so, that a feature story was crafted, photo taken, and a full two-page spread was readied for publication to appear on Christmas day, 1969.
“Bill Mauldin, you just got some competition,” I thought. Well, kind of. The paper subscribed to Mauldin’s syndicated cartoons, and my immediate goal was to take over his prominent spot on the editorial page, since mine were relegated to the lower right corner. The only hurdle at the time? I could think these up like there was no tomorrow, but seriously needed to learn how to draw. Fortunately, I was blinded to that latter point by my rose-colored glasses…with emphasis on fortunately. I was guided not by what I couldn’t do, but what I could. Blanks could always be filled in later.
Simultaneously working on my weekly tabloid-format school newspaper, I’d get lots of experience…especially when student editors handily filled empty space with my quick sketches, treating me like that reindeer Rudolph. Having switched from felt tip to croquill pens, I adjusted to that tool quickly, though I did not draw for reduction, meaning that my drawings were published at 100% original size. Now “zzzz”, all that stuff happens routinely with aspiring artists, and it’s hardly newsworthy. But what followed changed my outlook — and course — forever.
The Vietnam War was very much in high gear, and Richard M. Nixon was president as pot-smoking, fly-ravaged, work-challenged hippies infested the country like an incurable herpes virus. I felt an urgent need to save America and throttle the “Red Menace,” not to mention save my fellow students from coming communist-imposed enslavement.
Soo-o-o, I targeted long-haired peaceniks and anti-war demonstrators with glee. That caused a stir with my fellow students, so much so that I upped my illustrated pro-administration rhetoric just to keep things going. It got to the point that classmates loved to hate me, as 3,500 editions were snapped up almost immediately every week. Kids wanted to see what kind of outrageous BS I crafted next, something I came to understand, appreciate and vigorously work. At that age I had already connected performance with newspaper circulation.
I functioned as a “Rush Limbaugh” years before that muckraker surfaced, making Michael J. Fox’s Alex P. Keaton look like a flaming liberal! Unlike standard ivory tower commentators, however, I had direct access to my audience every day — and vice versa.
My cartoons eventually targeted all kinds of subjects, from big business to local PD to rival football teams, at one point forcing me to hide out from one of them. One faculty member even found himself in my cross hairs, as I was more than happy to oblige the adviser’s request. “You point, I’ll shoot,” I’d say.
A rival underground newspaper eventually emerged, with me and the school paper among its prime targets. We responded with a four page comic book-style satire designed to put them in their place, and that was outright fun! This kind of intellectual conflagration could be expected in places like New York City or Los Angeles, but not in our little blue collar burg. Sadly, most folks failed to appreciate its significance at the time.
There was a method to my CRACKED-ness. The longer folks dragged out that God-forsaken war with protests simply serving to buttress the resolve of the enemy, the more likely I was to wind up there. With 500,000-plus troops fighting “for us” in Vietnam, hippies and protesters were, in my mind, undermining their efforts. I was very much a patriotic American who never understood why people so easily turned on this country — at least back then.
There was…ehhh, another reason. Having endured considerable abuse as a “new student” attending 15 different schools over the past ten years — my so-called “peers” hurled every insult in the book at me. As a youngster I prayed nightly for relief, and endeavored to learn how to draw faces so that I could walk into a plastic surgeon’s office with a redesigned look and say “make me look like this!” It seemed as if God himself turned me into an artist, because when the drawing started, the insults stopped in a resounding, intellectually-fueled victory over bullies and bullying — I’d never experience one again (as a kid, anyway.)
Once I gained an actual publication outlet, it became my turn. (Oddly enough, my redesign-my-looks efforts actually worked! But that’s for another day.)
Above and beyond my school paper comments, I knew nothing I’d ever produce would ever impact national policy; rather, these efforts served as an education and were probably self-therapeutic.
Nonetheless, seven years later I would target a national agency with a full-fledged cartoon campaign, sending them scurrying for cover. That will be covered later, along with info about another cartoon enabling me to “moon” Russia — published in Moscow itself!
You probably noted my use of the word “target”. Whereas one would expect art lessons, composition and anatomical study to be at the forefront of this budding artist’s curriculum, reality dictated otherwise. I became a student of “cause and effect,” learning communicative techniques to be utilized again and again and again with substantive impact, often reverberating above and beyond the boundaries of my small town trappings, for the next 40 years.
Art teachers focused not on teaching me, but on curbing my burgeoning ego. (Hey, I was a teen!) One patient instructor eventually got through, however, and to this day what he taught me appears on every caricature I draw: calligraphy.
Serving on my school newspaper established my career foundation. Numerous awards were won, feathers were ruffled, and I even endured cancellation. A super hero comic strip finally published in the school paper was yanked in its fourth week as “irrelevant,” according to the editor. I vowed I’d someday get superheroes into this mix, though an obvious lack of interest in super hero fare did not go unnoticed with this then-comics fanatic.
But I also needed to know more. If I was to function in judgement of those running the show, I needed to know why things were done the way they were. There was only one way to find out.