Dick Kulpa as a super hero county board candidate

10 years AFTER the mayoral race: Cover of Dick Kulpa campaign literature from 1984 which carried 9 out of the ten precincts it was delivered in. That was enough to score an upset win for Kulpa over the Democrat incumbent. Oddly enough, the inside page layouts resembled something out of a supermarket tabloid.

Dick Kulpa’s cartoons and illustrations have appeared in a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites, locally, nationally and around the world, since 1969. Dick had little money, few connections and even less knowledge at the time, but did what he did anyway — beats holding a protest sign and getting beaten down by cops. You can do the same thing! Following is Part 2 of Dick’s story.

By Dick Kulpa

Since when did the ability to draw cartoons make one a political expert? This question hit me more than a few times during my school newspaper cartoon days, and I saw a need to increase my knowledge on this subject. So, at age 19 for this and other reasons, I announced my campaign for mayor of my hometown — pop. 12,390 — in 1972.

I felt little trepidation…another 18-year-old was successfully elected mayor somewhere else at the time, making all this potentially credible.I expected to win or, at the very least, learn something. The press treated my campaign with respect, and I was accorded the same opportunities all five candidates received. Cartoons were not utilized in this campaign as I was no longer drawing for the local paper — after gleefully junking out the then-owner’s beloved 1958 Rambler rust bucket station wagon he’d “gifted” me. By then I was its circulation manager as well, a position which ended just weeks after the car was junked.

tear of newspaper story about kulpa mayoral ambition

Loves Park Post recap of Dick Kulpa’s mayoral campaign

My cartoon career wasn’t entirely sidelined, as I was occasionally submitting cartoons to other papers in the region. I also dabbled in comic book fanzine artwork, getting published in several “fanzines,” amateur fan-created publications paying homage to the comic book industry. I was also establishing contacts within the comics industry, and that dried up when dear old dad forced me to get a job. “But dad, look at this nice personal note I got from (DC Comics legend) Carmine Infantino,” I protested. “Carmine who?” was the retort. Uninhibited comic page drawing, anatomical studies and other fun basement activities grudgingly gave way to the surface world.

Landing a graphics job at a silk screen firm, I grew bored designing OSHA signs (though I’d make a killing on those later as a freelancer.) Sadly, I was also losing interest in comic books as a reader. When (top comics artist) Jack Kirby left Marvel Comics, so did I. It then became “Geek rejoins the real world” upon entering the political arena.

Dick Kulpa Double Eagle & Company comic strip

Dick Kulpa’s 1975 Double Eagle & Co. comic strip. At that point he was not fully familiar with the female figure, at least artistically. That was because, dating back to his earliest days, Dick was too embarrassed to draw boobs – and didn’t want his mom to see his renditions of females. That is not the case today.

Speaking at a local women’s club, I scored dubious points when during a rising chorus of “tee-hee’s”, I discovered my vest sweater was on inside out. In another significant incident, school board members’ wives in thick, dripping makeup, bright red lipstick and big mouths — looking like fugitives out of Dave Berg’s Mad Magazine comics — backed me and others into a corner over our opposition to rising book fees.

These gals, joined by a particularly sarcastic newspaper reporter, peppered our little group with snide remarks and insults, motivating us to form a citizens’ PAC. We eventually took them all the way to the state supreme court, but this did little to bolster my candidacy at the time.

Uncle Sam cartoon shows both parties as evil devils on each shoulder

Kulpa’s mayoral race was non-partisan, which suited him fine. Dick has even less faith in the top two political parties today.

In another blow early into the race, my campaign manager lost his head when he tried to drive his El Camino under a semi truck. Literally. I held up well under the circumstances, until Argent’s Hold Your Head Up suddenly blared out from my car’s AM radio en route to his funeral.

An aldermanic candidate attending a council meeting with me whispered, “Hey, what’s an ordinance?” “I dunno,” I replied, in Leave It to Beaver fashion. “I think it’s a bigger law than a normal one.” Citizens could sleep well knowing the future of their great city would be in such capable hands.

Dick Kulpa bus placard comic strip Rockford Avenger

Dick Kulpa written and produced comic strip appeared as 11″ x 28″ placards for six weeks on city buses in 1976.

My mayoral campaign ran for months — with lots of free (and apparently useless) publicity, yard signs and bumper stickers (both items printed for free due to my silk screen industry ties) — but to make a long story short, I got tromped. I’d bitten off far more than I could chew (by no means the last time I would do THAT), learning the hard way our voters were not nearly as liberal as those in that other 18-year-old’s town.

Tail between my legs notwithstanding — I was not hugely ostracized over this — valuable lessons were learned (particularly about power-base politics), and I would run for office again…and again…and again…and NEVER lose another election. Happily, I would never be kicked out of office either.

During the next four years I helped found (and fund) a successful printing business (still operating today), launched a daily comic strip and a whole lot else, making a huge buck on illustrated cartoon CB radio postcards (QSL cards) during the CB craze. I bought and ran the AB Dick 360 offset press that produced them, arguably making each of these cards hands-on, 100% original artworks.

Dick Kulpa CB Radio QSL card

Dick Kulpa’s own CB Radio QSL card.

Kulpa QSL cartoon

Another Kulpa QSL card.

A national CB Radio magazine listed me among the top 30 QSL card publishers in the country, but my then-business associates wanted to pursue industrial stuff as opposed to cartoon projects, and didn’t support the effort. My life’s story.

I did connect with the local “big daily” in 1974, producing a dozen or so “editorial” cartoons over the next several months. That didn’t last long, as the pay was poor and some resistance emerged against my very opinionated pieces. I was not all “right” in this, but still found myself stuck holding the bag on unpaid-for staff pencil portraits that were never returned. Staring at a particularly accurate portrait print of my immediate contact there, I pointed at the image with all the force of Professor X and angrily shouted “You!” Within days he’d left the paper, dropping dead of a heart attack in his new locale several months later. Al Capp’s “Evil Eye Fleegle” had nothing on me!

The overall lesson learned? Unlike Spiderman’s boisterous newspaper publisher J. Jonah Jameson, these folks just didn’t seem to care about selling papers. It’s an issue I’d encounter over and over again, one etched into me due to my concurrent circulation management/editorial familiarity. The current decline in newspapers is no surprise.

In 1977 I’d receive a phone call from a newspaper reporter inquiring if I planned to run for alderman, and I blurted out “yes.” Quite frankly, I’d not given this any thought whatsoever until that call. The course of that small city would soon change forever.

Next Week – Part 3: The Fun REALLY Begins!

Dick Kulpa’s latest illustration, featuring Santa Claus weeping over the Sandy Hook victims, immediately went viral upon its Facebook and website release just hours after the tragedy. Millions of people connected with this emotion-charged image, inspiring an ongoing effort by Brenda Erby Fudge to petition to get this art onto next year’s holiday postage stamp as a memorial to the 26 victims. Kulpa produced the above video and wrote-performed the music for it as well.

One thought on “Part 2: Cartoonist Runs for Mayor

  1. Yet another wonderful episode here Kulpa…can’t wait for your next chapter!! I appreciate you for also mentioning my efforts on the postage stamp project. I pray it becomes a reality, and with every stamp used, a remembrance of this horrible event. Violence and hate MUST STOP, and I hope that each time your drawing is viewed, it will convict the hardest of hearts. May only the best come your way in this New Year.

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