Funnies Farrago welcomes back Dick Wright — one of those all-too-rare great conservative editorial cartoonists.
I started seeing editoons signed “Dick Wright” about a year ago. I was surprised at how good they were: well-drawn with sharply pointed commentary. Highly polished stuff. No beginner, he. And yet, I hadn’t seen his stuff before. And he was a rarity: he was a conservative in a profession whose practitioners are overwhelmingly liberal.
In the above Dick Wright illustrations, the cartoons in color are contemporary; the fourth cartoon is from 2020 or 2021 (click to enlarge).
Where did this guy come from I wondered. And so I looked him up a couple weeks ago.
I learned that Wright, 78, has returned to the drawing board after a 17-year retirement. He had left editooning to follow a higher calling — church pastor at a church he founded in Warrenton, Virginia. But recent events on the American political front were too much: he could no longer sit idly by and watch while liberal Democranks run his state:
Said Wright: “Since the election of Governor Northam, and the Democrats taking both chambers of the legislature in Virginia, I have been motivated to draw cartoons again that are opposed to the new socialist agenda of the Democrats.”
He posts new cartoons at his Facebook page, where he adds a paragraph of editorial annotation to each drawing, and his work is also distributed by Cagle Cartoons. Daryl Cagle was particularly happy to welcome Wright to his syndicate:
“I’m pleased to announce that we have added conservative cartoonist, Dick Wright, to our CagleCartoons.com newspaper syndication package! Dick has been one of America’s top editorial cartoonists for over 32 years … [And] now he’s inspired to come back to syndication with us. Conservative cartoonists are rare, and great conservative cartoonists are extremely rare; we’re delighted to have Dick join our cartoonists and we look forward to seeing him give more weight to the right side of our left leaning group.”
Near here, we’ve posted examples of Wright’s work culled from a collection of his cartoons, If He Only Had a Brain. Published in 1998, it shows Wright was taking shots at Prez Bill Clinton a lot.
Editor & Publisher’s David Astor traced Wright’s career at the time of his retirement.
“He 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, he’s affiliated with the Gwinnett Daily Post of Lawrenceville, Georgia.”
“While he’ll no longer be a professional cartoonist,” Astor continued, “Wright said he may do some drawings for church publications.”
Cartooning was almost a sidetrack for Wright. In college, he majored in finance, which is about as far away from cartooning as you can get. And when he considered a career, he initially chose engineering, having abandoned finance as a possibility. But Dick Wright has been engaged in church work from a very young age. The Washington Post’s Mike Rhode interviewed the editoonist upon his return to the profession.
“I grew up in church,” he told Rhode. “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 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.”
That’s when cartooning sidetracked him.
“ While I was at Long Beach State, I began to draw cartoons for the university newspaper, The ’49er. I did this for 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 1,700 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.”
Dick Wright is self-taught as a cartoonist although he credits Mad’s Mort Drucker with giving him crucial encouragement.
“When I started cartooning, I was pretty rough,” Wright said. “I guess that given where I started, I am most proud of what I developed into. My work now 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 editorial cartoonist Karl Hubenthal in Los Angeles.
”When I was trying to get into cartooning,” Wright continued, “I wrote Mort a letter with some of my work [aimed at] 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 Mad cartoonists 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.”