“Don’t ever accuse me of being objective,” Paul Conrad liked to say. As the editorial cartoonist for the Los Angeles Times from 1964 until 1991, Conrad delighted in skewering the powerful. During the 1960s, Conrad savaged then–Gov. Ronald Reagan so frequently that Times publisher Otis Chandler quipped that his mornings began with a phone call from the governor or his wife expressing outrage over Conrad’s latest drawing.
Conrad was an unabashed liberal, but he happily “took aim at pomposity, injustice, and corruption” of all ideological stripes, said The Washington Post. One of his most memorable cartoons appeared shortly after Sen. Edward Kennedy’s scandalous car accident in Chappaquiddick, Mass., which left a young woman dead. Conrad drew Lady Justice, with her blindfold and balancing scales, refusing a ride offered by Kennedy. But Conrad reserved his most scathing attacks for Republicans, especially Richard Nixon. When Nixon resigned the presidency in 1974, Conrad drew a helicopter lifting off from the White House lawn, with the caption: “One flew over the cuckoo’s nest.”
Conrad and his identical twin, James, were born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to a housewife and a railroad worker “who dabbled in art,” said the Associated Press. After serving in the Army Corps of Engineers during World War II, Conrad attended the University of Iowa, where he drew cartoons for the campus newspaper. After finishing college, in 1950, he took a job cartooning for The Denver Post, where he remained until joining the Los Angeles Times in 1964, shortly after winning the first of his three Pulitzer prizes. From the beginning he specialized in single-panel images, “rarely used dialogue, and kept words to a minimum.”
The paucity of words didn’t diminish the sting of his cartoons, said the Los Angeles Times. He “loved making trouble,” and with his “righteous indignation and furious craft,” he usually succeeded. In 1968, Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty sued Conrad for libel after one of his cartoons suggested Yorty had lost his mind. The suit was dismissed. Frank Sinatra called him “a disgrace to responsible journalism.” Conrad lapped up such complaints, but none compared with his name’s appearance on Richard Nixon’s infamous enemies list, which he considered a high honor. “A cartoonist,” he once told an interviewer, “should get out of bed mad and stay mad.”