By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
“I never knew that the motherfucker played,” he said. “And I wouldn’t have listened to the fucking sonuvabitch if I’d had the opportunity.”
Following that question, I could tell that Conrad had finally figured out that he wasn’t being interviewed by a journalist, but rather just another smart-ass cartoonist. Almost immediately, our conversation switched from being something easily transcribed for publication to the sort of zigzagging chitchat that warms only the participants.
Example: I told him that I often found cartooning horribly depressing and wildly elating at the same time because all of my best work usually came out of the most disastrous political circumstances and that, aside from needing to endure the sort of existential nausea severe enough to uncross the eyes of Sartre and the legs of Simone de Beauvoir, George Bush’s re-election in 2004 was the best thing that could’ve happened to our profession. He told me stuff like he went to Mass because it was like eating half a head of lettuce. “It’s just got to be good for you,” he said, spilling pipe tobacco onto his trousers.
Then, before I knew it, the coffee was done and the dog was asleep. I started packing up to go and, already feeling sentimental about the afternoon, thanked him for what he did.
“Huh?” he said.
“You know, what you do with your cartooning,” I said.
“What do I do?” he wanted to know, standing to walk me to the door.
“You know, changing the world for the better, that kind of crap,” I said. He grunted and waved off my comment as if he’d caught a whiff of something too sweet to be entirely pleasant. “You don’t think an editorial cartoonist can change the world?” I said, suddenly wondering if I’d entered the wrong profession.
“Nope,” he said.
I gathered my stuff and followed him into the living room. “Do you think a bunch of editorial cartoonists can change the world?” I said.
“Nope,” he said.
“Well,” I said, “your cartoons can start the conversation that can change opinions that can change the world. Right?”
“I’ve never seen any evidence of that. It’s all the same crap,” he said, as we reached the front door.
I asked him if he knew the famous story about Boss Tweed, the Tammany Hall chief from the 1860s. He said that he didn’t. I told him that Tweed never cared what people wrote about him in the newspapers, but that he despised the mass appeal of editorial cartoons, which he referred to as them damn pictures and were what ultimately destroyed his career and effectively ended the corruption that had gripped the city for that time period.
“Hmm,” he said, opening the door.
“Your cartoons,” I told him, “let people know that politics are not too complicated to understand and that nobody is so stupid that they shouldn’t have an opinion about what goes on in the world.”
“Do you find that anybody has any idea about what is going on in the world?” he wanted to know.
“I find that people are not used to talking about political issues and that it’s a difficult conversation and I think that what you do is provide a point of reference for the common person to feel brave and empowered enough to look at certain issues, maybe even do something about them.”
“Well, I hope so,” he said, as unaware of his importance as a pen is of what it’s writing. And then: “I promise to play piano for you next time you come by, Wayne.”
I, CON: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF PAUL CONRAD, EDITORIAL CARTOONIST| By Paul Conrad | Angel City Press | 192 pages | $25 paperback