Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Meet a Local Cartoonist: A Chat with Dick Wright

by Mike Rhode

Dick Wright of The Providence Journal-Bulletin was the 1983 Pulitzer Prize Finalist in Editorial Cartooning. As Dave Astor has written, “Wright worked for the [San Diego] Union-Tribune … (starting in 1976) and later joined The Providence (R.I.) Journal, the Nashville (Tenn.) Banner, and The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch. Currently [2005], he’s affiliated with the Gwinnett Daily Post of Lawrenceville, Ga. He was syndicated by Tribune Media Services, then Copley News Service, and finally for several years in the early 2000s by Daryl Cagle. His work was collected in the book If He Only Had a Brain... in 1998. The Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco “houses over 300 political cartoons illustrated by famed cartoonist Dick Wright in the mid-1990s.” He retired from editorial cartooning in 2005, around the same time he was profiled by the Washington Times. Wright has recently returned to editorial cartooning.

What type of comic work or cartooning do you do?

I draw editorial cartoons.

How do you do it? Traditional pen and ink, computer or a combination?

I use a brush, pen and India ink.
When (within a decade is fine) and where were you born?

I was born in 1944.

Why are you in the Washington area now?  What neighborhood or area do you live in?

I live in Warrenton, Virginia.

What is your training and/or education in cartooning?

I am self-taught. I went to Long Beach State University and I majored in finance.

Who are your influences?

Mad magazine, and especially Mort Drucker. Also, Walt Disney.

If you could, what in your career would you do-over or change?

I think I would do more local cartoons.

What work are you best-known for?

I can't think of a single piece of work. In general probably my caricatures.

What work are you most proud of?

Well, when I started I was pretty rough. I guess that given where I started I am most proud of what I developed into. My work is a far cry from when I started. I had some help along the way. Mort Drucker was a great encouragement to me as well as Karl Hubenthal in Los Angeles.

What would you like to do or work on in the future?

I am content to do cartoons about Virginia at this point in my career.

What do you do when you're in a rut or have writer's block?
I used to keep a file of "ideas" that I used to trigger new ideas. If you worked at it long enough something would come.

What do you think will be the future of your field?

I think that the future in cartooning is in online venues.

What local cons do you attend?

I don't attend any.

What's your favorite thing about DC?

I worked in DC for Scripps-Howard Newspapers. I got to know DC a bit. I guess being in the middle of the action was my favorite thing. I ran into many people that were real players. I enjoyed that

Least favorite?


What monument or museum do you like to take visitors to?

The Smithsonian.

How about a favorite local restaurant?

I love Mexican food just about anywhere.

Do you have a website or blog?

I have a website for a book I wrote called "Growing Big In God". I wrote short messages about many topics about life. I was a pastor of two churches and used my experience and knowledge to help others deal with the tough side of life. Dick Wright Cartoons is my Facebook page with new cartoons.

How has the COVID-19 outbreak affected you, personally and professionally?

I work from home anyway so it really hasn't impacted me much.

 Can you tell us a bit about being a church pastor and your faith?

I grew up in church. I had a very powerful experience with God at about the age of thirteen. From that time forward, I was deeply engaged in church and was very focused on spiritual things. On my own I began to read the Bible every evening before going to sleep. In reading the Bible, I learned a lot about God and it changed me. Even as a young teen, I became very interested in someday serving the Lord as a pastor. My parents were middle class. We struggled financially even as my dad worked two and three jobs as far back as I can remember. When it came time for me to go to college, I did not have you the heart to ask for help in going to college. I was interested in going to a bible college to become a pastor. Instead, I attended Junior College with no particular direction. I dropped out and got a job as a draftsman because I could draw. In those days we actually drew by hand the things we were building. I advanced quickly and moved up to a junior designer at the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, California. I became interested in engineering.

By then I was married with two little girls. I wanted to become a senior designer, but you had to be degreed. So I went to Long Beach State studying engineering and worked full time. While I was at Long Beach State I began to draw cartoons for the university newspaper, the 49'er. I did this a couple of years and finally I went to some local newspaper editors and asked them what they thought of my work. They were very encouraging and began to print a few. This changed my whole direction. I began to consider changing my career goal from engineering to cartooning. I spent about two years contacting newspapers looking for a job. Finally, I was hired at the San Diego Union as their back-up cartoonist and illustrator and I was on my way. It didn't take long for my editorial cartoons to be used more and more and I became the lead cartoonist. I was in San Diego for about eighteen months and then moved to the Providence Journal and that is where my career took off. I was focused on being as good as I could be. I would get up at about four in the morning and read the paper cover to cover. My intent was to know what was going on so my cartoons had substance. I worked at it. I became syndicated and my list of papers grew to about 420. This was a lot, since at that time there were only about 1700 dailies in the country.

This went on for years, but I never forgot the early experience I had with God and my very distinct call to be a pastor. As my list of papers grew I reached my limit. I began to struggle to keep the numbers up and had to work harder just to stay even. I began to realize that there was no way I could sustain what I had been doing for years and I became discouraged. I began to question what I was doing, and for what? At this time I began to think about becoming a pastor and fulfill that early calling. I was 52 at the time. I began to seek out what was necessary to become a pastor. I had a friend who was a pastor who told me that in Virginia all you needed to become a pastor was to be ordained by a church and I could become a pastor. His church ordained me as I had 30 years’ experience leading and teaching the Word. Within a month I had gathered together a group of 21 people and we started a church and I was the pastor. In 12 weeks the church grew to 100 attenders. Three years later we completed a new church building. In five years, my church had grown to more than 400. I retired and then came out of retirement to help another small church get established. I am currently the assistant pastor at that church now.

 You mentioned Mort Drucker who just passed away this month, after a long life. Do you have any specific stories or anecdotes about knowing him?

 When I was trying to get into cartooning, I wrote Mort a letter with some of my work to Mad magazine. I received a letter back from him. He was gracious and encouraging. He offered advice about cartooning that was very helpful. One of the things he told me was that every assignment I get and send off should be better than the last job I did. He said this was the way to get better. He said that when you plateau and level off, keep working at doing better than your last job. He said this is how he improved. Mort was a very kind and gracious man. Many years later, when I was the cartoonist at the Providence Journal, I was involved is getting the program set for an editorial cartooning convention. I contacted Mad and talked to the editor and invited all the cartoonist to the convention in Newport. Mort and Jack Davis showed up along with some others. What a thrill! I have a photo of Mort and myself taken at the mansion where we were hosting the convention. He was so gracious and kind to me. What a great cartoonist, a great man. I miss him.

 4/23/2020: Updated with links to Wright's Facebook page, thanks to DD Degg of the Daily Cartoonist.

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