Dick Kulpa as ALDER-MAN

ALDER-MAN, aka cartoonist Dick Kulpa, is shown “lifting” an illegally-parked statue in Rockford, Illinois back in 1983. (Charlie Schoeneck Photo)

The Rise of ALDER-MAN: Just how far can a cartoonist take things? Years after establishing a reputation as an “activist” political cartoonist, I kinda sorta took things above and beyond by donning cape and tights to become ALDER-MAN, defender of truth, justice and my hometown’s way. I even had my own “Batmobile” to match!

cartoon course ad

Kulpa-drawn 1980 ad ballyhooing Dick’s cartoon classes.

Dick Kulpa's Double Eagle

Dick Kulpa’s “Double Eagle”

“ALDER-MAN”  was not planned. Teaching a two-week “whiz kids” cartooning course at a local college, I rented a super hero costume to model for a figure-drawing lesson, adding a stick-on “A” for “artist.”

Dick Kulpa, cartoon teacher.

Younger Dick Kulpa shown at his cartoon class.

These kids were too young for nude models, so a super hero presented the perfect solution. This worked like a charm, but after the class and still in costume, I dropped by city hall, my hangout as an alderman (or selectman, or councilman, as some call it). There I’d encounter my camera-carrying newspaper editor pal — a Humphrey Bogart sound-a-like — and the rest, as they say, became history. “ALDER-MAN” was officially born when photographs appeared in the local paper a week later.

Dick Kulpa's Saturn Comic

A second full-color Saturn Plant comic book was created by Kulpa featuring caricatures of  top GM officials who willingly participated.

Kulpa saturn newspaper article.

Illinois Gov. Jim Thompson and GM Chairman Roger Smith exchanged autographed copies of Dick’s 1985 Saturn plant promo comic book.

I’d unwittingly merged reality with fantasy, becoming the ultimate “living cartoon.” This presented an ideal solution to a troublesome issue: conflict between artist and politician. “Surely when my constituents see this,” I reasoned, “my days as an elected official will be ended.”

The problem? I was increasingly defined by politics, rather than art. My artistic development was skewing through a barrage of stuffed shirt committee meetings, and something had to give. Back then I drew via sight rather than anatomical foundation, and that required some effort.

Unexpectedly, my self-destruct button backfired. Most folks (read: voters) embraced ALDER-MAN, so much so that four years later he’d sail to a surprise upset victory in a much bigger county board election as “COUNTY-MAN!” Plus, I finally accomplished something else, a goal long forgotten: I now could — and did — draw super hero-oriented comic strips for local newspaper publication. After years of favoring political cartoons over super hero adventure strips, Ye olde editor was finally INTERESTED and I was too, even if some compromise was involved.

ALDER-MAN was for real — complete with his own super power: a God-given ability to draw!

Dick Kulpa as ALDER-MAN

A shaken ALDER-MAN safely emerges from the car he flipped during a rollover contest.

Contrary to popular belief, ALDER-MAN made few appearances in costume — perhaps once a year at city hall meetings — and usually around Halloween, to the chagrin of some. After delivering a sewer plug to a needy citizen, he expressed disappointment that I wasn’t wearing my cape. But aside from crashing a parade or two (uninvited), the spandex-clad avenger also appeared in the local “police vs businessmen annual short track race,” running a donated race car jalopy — in full costume — during the heats and grand finale demolition derby.

Firing up the main event, ALDER-MAN lept from race car to race car, landing on hoods prior to its start. During racing and special events he endured collisions, flipped his car and even snuffed out occasional fires.

ALDER-MAN cartoon

ALDER-MAN appeared in a number of full broadsheet satire strips, including this 1984 effort lampooning Illinois Secretary of State police roadblocks. Dick spared nobody — not even himself — as shown by his flabby figure. “No excuse looking like a hippo,” Kulpa recently said.

This beat being chained to an ink-splattered drawing board in some dank basement, and very few comics artists can claim to know the actual sensation of a cape flapping through headwinds in life or death situations.

Racing on a NASCAR-sanctioned short track was governed by the same laws of physics pro NASCAR drivers faced, with similar adrenalin rushes, and I believed I felt how an actual super hero might feel at the time. I wore the cloth and flew the fly!

Other politicians soon saw themselves in my drawings as super heroes, with the local mayor portrayed as “Mighty Mayor.” Illinois Governor Jim Thompson appeared as a super hero in the “Race for Saturn” comic book series promoting my hometown’s bid for the GM Saturn plant. Years later my city’s “extraordinary” economic development posturing — largely nonexistent until the Saturn comic book emerged — was written up in USA Today.

Donald Trump as a super hero cartoon

Dick Kulpa is STILL dressing politicians in super hero spandex. This recent cartoon appeared as Donald Trump flirted with running for president. Cartoonist Kulpa actually came to his aid in 1988, creating cartoon placards targeting jet noise! See President Obama in spandex!

By then a county board member and no longer on city council, I charged the city $950 to produce the second 4-page edition (after donating the first.) That book eventually generated $950 THOUSAND in a revolving loan jobs grant program courtesy of the state of Illinois — a 1,000% return.

Digital cartoon of George Reeves as Superman

George Reeves would burn his TV Superman suit when shooting season ended.

“ALDER-MAN” worked for a number of reasons. Normal folks (non-comic book fanatics) saw superheroes as pure Dick Kulpa as ALDER-MANgood-deed doers in the spirit of the 1960s Superman. Plus, I was known in my community, with a ten year record of cartoon/political credibility. Thirdly, I kept those costumes simple, conservative and to the point. One might inquire “If given the chance, would you do this again?” I actually tried ten years ago, as “Captain CRACKED.” This generated attention, but in all honesty…I was never that keen on tights. Wearing that stuff was a means to an end, like many actors think today. But it worked great at a bar as I’d power up with a Coors.

Captain CRACKED and Dick Kulpa

Blurred 2003 photo shows Dick Kulpa as Captain CRACKED standing next to his trusted Double Eagle.

Nowadays I’m too d*mned old for these stunts, having since embraced the sport coat “old man” sea captain look. As a caricature artist, that’s an image I’m totally comfortable with. More importantly, Captain Cartoon works, and that’s the bottom line.Dick as Captain Cartoon

For any instructor thinking of wearing super hero tights to figure drawing art classes, a word of caution: With kids, it’s not an issue, but if you’re teaching an adult-education class and you’ve struck an action pose, then suddenly realized how pretty some of those 20-something gal students really are, that could become a problem. This being a blog and not a book, I wish I had more space to post more ALDER-MAN graphics. Stay tuned, the best is yet to come as all cartoon H— breaks loose!

Next: Part 5: Dick Kulpa’s Greatest Cartoon

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