The Century Walk Corporation

Napervillian Dick Locher to pen his last Tracy strip

January 25, 2011 — Source: Naperville Sun — Author: Kathy Millen

The heart and soul behind Dick Tracy for the last three decades will be saying “over and out.”

Tribune Media Services announced Wednesday that Richard Locher, 81, of Naperville, will be retiring from the comic strip. His last installment will be featured in newspapers March 13, after which a group of cartoonists will take over the production of the strip.

Locher is in the process of finishing his final story line for the series, which he has drawn for the last 30 years and also started writing in 2005.

“Thirty years is enough,” said Locher, from his home studio. “I’ve done enough damage in 30 years. But I really like writing it. I like writing it a lot.”

The Dick Tracy comic strip was created by Chester Gould in 1931 and is read by millions of people every day. During Locher’s tenure at the drawing board, the strip was featured in almost 700 papers during its peak. But a dismal economy and shrinking newspapers have dropped that number to about 150.

Locher, a commercial artist and a longtime fan of the Tracy strip, became Gould’s assistant in the late 1950s. He felt a connection with the cartoonist from the start and considers himself privileged to have worked with him.

“He was 30 years older than I was, but there was a spark between us that leaped the generations,” Locher said. “I was able to ride in the police car that was chasing the villain at 90-miles-an-hour, and it was a hell of a ride.”

Locher, a native of Dubuque, Iowa, attended University of Iowa, the Art Center of Los Angeles and the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. He started as a commercial artist working for such companies as McDonald’s, John Deere and U.S. Steel before going into business for himself.

At Gould’s suggestion, he applied for a position of editorial cartoonist at The Chicago Tribune in 1972. He has been working there ever since, creating five editorial cartoons each week. One of them earned him a Pulitzer Prize in 1983 and another the John Fischetti Editorial Cartoon Award in 1987.

Locher said he is now taking on a role of consultant for the Tribune and plans to keep drawing editorial cartoons for the company. A painter and sculptor, he said he also wants to do more fine art. He is planning an exhibit of Western art next year at North Central College.

His work has been published in numerous books and publications and in 2008, he was inducted into the Fox Valley Arts Hall of Fame.

Dick Tracy will remain a lasting presence in Naperville. Last year, Locher helped create a 9-foot bronze statue of the sleuth which was installed by the Naperville Century Walk along the Riverwalk near the Naperville Township building.

In bronze or on paper, Dick Tracy is a living, breathing presence in Locher’s life.

“He fights with his wife, he cuts himself shaving, he uses deodorant, he’s late for work and he’s supposed to be in 10 places at one time,” Locher said. “So I would say he’s pretty much alive. Another reason I think he’s alive is I talk to him. He talks back. We’ve carved a niche for him, and he stays in that niche. We don’t take him out of it, because he works well the way it is.”

Locher and his wife, Mary, have lived in Naperville for the last 40 years. They have a son, Steve, a daughter, Jan, and five grandchildren.

Another son, John, died 25 years ago at age 25. The Lochers established a scholarship program in his memory in 1987 given to promising college cartoonists.

As the half-finished panels sit on his drawing board, Locher admitted it will be tough leaving Dick Tracy behind.

“It will be kind of sad,” he said. “I’ve had a lump in my throat for a week now. I’m going to miss it.”