…was never published. In fact, it was destroyed. The issue? A Rockford, Ill. police officer made headlines when he’d been caught golfing sans his pants, and days later one of my hometown cops rear-ended a car with his cruiser. Not surprisingly, someone else — not the officer — got the ticket. My POST cartoon for the week showed two panels with captions: “The difference between Rockford Cops and LP Cops? Ours keep their rear-ends covered!”
Here I thought I was being complimentary, but burying it was probably a good call by my editor, who feared another Cops vs Kulpa donut debacle! But what made this drawing “so-called great?” The art was capably done — within a half hour or so — and it carried two panels, but art — and even great art — was often never enough.
It was the potential for reader connection and reaction that mattered most to me, something I learned and practiced religiously since high school 15 years earlier! In this case, the messenger guy hired to deliver it nearly fell on the floor laughing, telling me all I needed to know. This cartoon worked.
From 1977 through 1988 I’d engage in cartoon adventures any toon-pusher would envy, learning the subtle difference between national and local cartoons, deriving immense satisfaction (but no “national” fame and glory) from the latter. That’s because those local ditties hit home in more ways than one, generating measurable response, providing this cartoon comedian with a ready audience. As a cartoonist, I’d get ample opportunity to experiment!
Politicians are people too, and my town was chock full of characters ripe for parody. My fellow councilpersons had distinctive personalities and faces any caricature artist would term as “field days.”
Sometimes injecting ALDER-MAN into the fray, I’d fill entire broadsheets with multi-panel cartoon satires featuring city council members, cops and others. Not worthy of syndication due to their local nature, I didn’t care…this was FUN!
Just because someone got slammed in a cartoon did not mean I didn’t like them…I usually DID, knowing these folks would some day show these off in scrapbooks. If I didn’t like you, you’d probably never be drawn, though I made exceptions if the story warranted it. Nobody was immune from a Dick Kulpa cartoon — not even my own newspaper.
During one controversy, my brother “somehow” evaded a traffic ticket, and the POST pointed their fat little fingers at me (when I was totally innocent, I tell you.) In response, I submitted a cartoon which was eventually published on the paper’s front page, and that appears at left.
This was a significant event, as it established in readers’ minds the paper’s commitment to credibility, as well as my own, enabling me to function in the dual capacity as POST cartoonist and city councilman.
Back then newspapers served as potent counter-balances to big government, and small town newspaper editors often went on to bigger and better things, their current positions not accurately reflecting their talent and potential. I held great respect for these future guardians of democracy.
I’d take on The POST again when, in 1985 (or thereabouts) they refused to publish a cartoon targeting a particularly blood-sucking utility rate hike. Problem was, that utility was allegedly the paper’s biggest advertiser, a conflict I found alarming and intolerable. The rejected drawing was then released to Rockford TV news media, and after a couple days of high profile circus fun (with the paper’s sympathetic editor caught in between) the Post relented and published it, (though I had to change the screw to a stake.)
The publisher’s ruffled feathers were soon smoothed over after a private phone call…“I’m not mad at the POST.…think of all the papers sold over this free publicity you just got!”
Andy Kaufman and Jerry Lawler had nothing on me, though I’ll admit they were funnier.)
Preferring local subjects, I produced my share of national cartoons as well, generating little disagreement from readers. (Boring!) Various styles were experimented with, and while the Dave McNelly look was the rage back then, I was not overly crazy about spending hours crosshatching black backgrounds on a wide screen plane. My work was often produced “on the fly,” and themes were usually kept relatively simple to accomplish this.
But not always. I relished doing multi-panel gag comic strips, particularly since I aspired to the national comics arena where the real money was. My political cartoons were created as hybrids of political and entertainment styles, and I eschewed that which I saw as a prevalent “cookie-cutter” approach to editorial cartooning.
Kulpa cartoons were also produced for the Testor Corporation newsletter during the 1980s. I served as graphic arts manager for this iconic model kit and glue company, and upon completion of my secondary glue-sniffing daily task (SOMEONE had to make sure that stuff was safe for kids), I’d get to ply my chosen trade. A marvelous company, I regret to this day ever leaving it for so-called greener pastures. But Bat Boy had not yet been created!
I’d also write and draw “Grodies” instruction sheets for a re-release of the classic 1960s “Weird-Ohs” model kits, and in 1986 another issue emerged, causing Testors to join with me in a startlingly new cartoon campaign: Gangbuster!
Testors was located in an area increasingly impacted by youth gang activity, and concerns rose over the safety of chemicals stored at a (very) nearby tank farm. One spark could blow away three city blocks, I was told, and rock-throwing kids had to be dealt with. I’d just had one rock-thrower arrested (he was executing a “gang initiation” on our building’s windows) and a week later, I approached company president Chuck Miller (actress Susan St. James’ brother) with an idea: an anti-gang comic book.
Since my association (and success) with super heroes was common knowledge in Rockford, he approved it…though he still would never let me take his Delorean for a spin.
Research needed to be done fast, and I brought in a local journalist who’d done just that for a series of news stories, hiring him as the book’s writer. Submitting a story several days later, we sat down at my kitchen table where I deep-sixed his script and crafted a plot on the spot.
There was no space in an 8-page comic book for any “origin”, I said, and we needed to hook the reader with something exciting up front, which was accomplished. Within six weeks, GANGBUSTER emerged, and after running it through a gauntlet of experts and youth gang counselors, it went to press. (Yeah, I manually color separated it with zip-a-tone as well.)
It’s 10,000 copy release was cause célèbre for a front page headline in the Rockford daily newspaper, and GANGBUSTER did the trick, quieting things down for the entire summer, according to local officials.
Kids’ response was overwhelmingly favorable according to counselor surveys, and one enterprising bunch was caught selling these free books — by the dozens — for 75 cents each. I actually looked the other way during the first 60 sold, believing it was good for them to do — beats selling drugs! Police agencies are still distributing Gangbuster 27 years later — Get that FREE Gangbuster comic book here!
The Rockford Avenger, ALDER-MAN, Super-Swede, GM-Saturn Man, CountyMan and now GANGBUSTER overflew Rockford dating back 11 years, and I thoroughly enjoyed the attention that Gangbuster headline story was getting. But something happened the very next DAY which threatened to unravel years’ worth of Dick Kulpa super-heroing.
Stopped at a busy highway intersection, I noticed flame under a car’s engine directly across, and that vehicle was definitely on fire. Pulling next to it, I warned the driver of this, noting the flames were getting higher. Having recently dealt with another car fire, a firemen’s advice reverberated through my mind…”open the hood and throw snow on it.” There was snow all over, but, BAD idea. Raising the hood with a handful of snow, the fire back-drafted and — WHOOSH — the entire car went up in even more flame.
Worse…this standard transmission vehicle started to move on its own, smack into the path of U.S. 51 southbound cars hitting that intersection at 50-plus miles per hour. Collision was inevitable, and nothing I did stopped that car, then powered by internal transmission heat pressure. It was actively in gear and heading east — jam-packed with freshly-printed bowling shirts!
Was this a job for CountyMan? “Hell no,” I thought — I left that costume at home! Do nothing, however, and one of the biggest multi-car pileups with fatal outcomes was set to occur. Oncoming traffic had no idea this car was headed straight into their path…and it was not to be stopped.
My last words? “Oh sh-t!”
Sadly…I have run out of time for this chapter. Stay tuned! While we’re all waiting, visit and “like” my Captain Cartoon Facebook Fan Page for current stuff!