PAUL CONRAD: Drawing Fire



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The Film

A black-and-white photograph of Paul Conrad, in black-framed glasses and wearing a button-down striped shirt and tie, posing at his desk in the middle of drawing a cartoon, surrounded by a wall of clippings and photographs

“Whether loved or hated, agreed with or scoffed at, whether subject of glowing awards or winning an honored spot on the White House enemies list—it’s broadly agreed that Paul Conrad is, in his field of editorial cartooning, a genius.”
—Shelby Coffey III, former editor and executive vice president, Los Angeles Times

One of the most distinguished editorial cartoonists in the world, Paul Conrad has won three Pulitzer Prizes in addition to a long list of journalism's most prestigious awards—although his favorite distinction is his 1973 inclusion on Richard Nixon’s enemies list. An extraordinary artist and journalist, Conrad epitomizes the fiercely independent voice that has been disappearing from American news media in recent years. Featuring nearly 200 Conrad cartoons and interviews with the artist’s family, friends and colleagues, PAUL CONRAD: Drawing Fire is a documentary tribute to this legendary editorial cartoonist.

Born in 1924, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Conrad started cartooning for his college paper at the University of Iowa. After receiving his B.A. in art in 1950, he was hired by the Denver Post as the staff cartoonist and remained there for 14 years, winning his first Pulitzer in 1964. While in Denver, he met Kay King, a society writer for the Denver Post. Paul and Kay married and they became parents to two sons and two daughters.

In 1964, Conrad was lured to the Los Angeles Times by its ambitious new publisher, Otis Chandler, who was determined to transform the Times from a regional publication with a stridently right wing history into a paper of national significance. During Conrad's three decades as the staff cartoonist at the Los Angeles Times, Chandler was often called upon to defend his star artist against attacks from those who strongly disagreed with Conrad's liberal-leaning political views.

But Conrad was no partisan ideologue. He took on Democrats as well as Republicans. For Conrad, it was always about the issue, and his cartoons always reflected an opinion that was obviously formed only after considerable reading and reflection.

By 1993, Conrad's reign at the Los Angeles Times had ended. The publication had ceased to operate as a family-controlled newspaper and became but a single asset in a large, multi-faceted corporation whose publishers were not as supportive of Conrad as Otis Chandler had been. At age 69, Conrad decided to accept their buy-out "invitation" and move on. Retirement didn't interest him, so he quickly made a deal with the Tribune Media Syndicate. In 2006, at the age of 81, he is still going strong, drawing four cartoons a week which appear in newspapers nationwide. He says he’ll never quit.

In PAUL CONRAD: Drawing Fire, fellow cartoonists including Tony Auth, Doug Marlette and Mike Keefe wax poetic about Conrad as role model and shed insight on his place in the pantheon, as do columnist Harold Meyerson, cartoon historian Stephen Hess and Huntington Museum Curator Sara S. Hodson. Former Los Angeles Times Publisher the late Otis Chandler, former Editor John Carroll, former National Editor Ed Guthman, columnist Patt Morrison and other Los Angeles Times staffers speak eloquently about the influence Conrad has had on them, the paper and the public. Augmented by archival news footage of the 11 presidents Conrad has lampooned, the film also serves as a political pop history of the past five decades.

As traditional newspaper readership continues to decline, PAUL CONRAD: Drawing Fire spotlights a rarity: a beloved figure that makes us think about the issues, about ourselves and about what it means to be a moral human being and a responsible citizen in modern times.

Read the filmmaker Q&A for a behind-the-scenes look at the film >>


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