As part of his work, Naperville resident Dick Locher got to create stories about a make-believe icon while interacting with a few real-life ones.
For more than 30 years, Locher worked on the daily cartoon strip featuring one of America's most recognized pop-culture figures -- the fedora-wearing detective, Dick Tracy. Locher also worked as a political cartoonist, and his work brought him into contact with such political luminaries as President Ronald Reagan.
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"It's been a joy ride," Locher said Sunday, while talking about his career during a special celebration of Dick Tracy's 80th birthday at the Naper Settlement museum in Naperville.
The event included a variety of special activities on the Naper Settlement grounds, along with a half-hour talk by Locher about his work.
After working on the Dick Tracy strip off-and-on since the late 1950s, Locher took over the art duties for good in 1983. He retired from the strip in March of this year.
He spent the early part of his tenure working under Dick Tracy's creator, legendary cartoonist Chester Gould. Despite the tough schedule -- Locher said "you get no days off" when working on a daily comic strip -- working with Gould was a dream, he said.
"It was an honor and a pleasure to work with Chet," he said. "He was the boss, but he never used that word. He said we were his co-workers."
It was Gould who suggested that Locher apply for an editorial cartoonist position in Chicago in the early 1970s. When he was hired, Locher said he began to panic, as he'd never done that kind of work before.
"Fortunately, Richard Nixon was in office then," he said with a smile.
Locher figured things out quickly enough. In 1983, his editorial cartooning earned him a Pulitzer Prize.
Locher said Sunday that after working so long in newspapers, it pains him to see the industry in so much trouble today, especially when it comes to political cartoonists.
"It won't stay that way," he said, adding that "a smart editor somewhere will understand that a good cartoon can make money."
Locher's visit to Naperville was the result of a grant the Naper Settlement received from the National Endowment of the Arts.
"Dick Locher was the perfect fit for us," said Nancy Smith, director of learning experiences at the Naper Settlement. "He offered us a chance to tell a story about someone who's lived here in Naperville for nearly half a century, and who, as an artist, worked on something very iconic."
Naperville resident Chris Karnes, a huge Dick Tracy fan, used to buy Chicago newspapers as a child, even though he lived in Wisconsin, so he could read the next installment of the strip.
"I loved Dick Tracy," he said. "I used to cut out the comics from the paper and put them together in notebooks."
Karnes praised Locher's contributions to the strip and said he looked forward to hearing Sunday's talk.
"I've met him before, but it's always a thrill," he said.