John Locher Biography
In 1983, the day John completed his fourth year at Northern Illinois University, he began drawing the Dick Tracy comic strip. He was excited with the prospect of being involved with Tracy. John's enthusiasm for the strip had begun years earlier when he had lunch with Chester Gould at the Press Club restaurant in Chicago when he was only nine years old. I will always be indebted to Chet for the time and interest he took in John from that time on.
The Tracy strip took some exciting turns while John and I drew Tracy into exciting scenarios. John was quick to adapt to the fast pace. His fine artistic ability was a major contribution to the strip. Initially he assisted by drawing his excellent detailed backgrounds and doing all the lettering. Later he also selected and laid in the colors for the Sunday strip and started doing some of the main figures.
John quickly got involved in the strip. He enjoyed the many Tracy discussions he had with Max Allen Collins, the writer of the strip at that time. And, in order to get more authentic detail in the strip, John approached the Naperville Illinois Police Department and formed a long and lasting friendship with Officer George Pradel. Officer Pradel gave John complete tours of the police headquarters and gave John a standing invitation to accompany him in his squad car when he went on patrol. John was thus able to achieve much valuable firsthand research on police activities. Officer Pradel became mayor of Naperville in 1995.
At the same time, the Editorial Board of the Chicago Tribune was searching for artists to illustrate letters and stories both for the Editorial page and the Op-ed page. The Tribune was quick to add John's interpretations to its pages. His stylized and powerful graphics were eye openers to me. His creative eye would ferret out the essence of a story. His translations into art were a great addition to the perspective pages. I cherish the collection of his art that we assembled at the time.
John truly enjoyed his new occupation. He was immediately involved with the ever-present public relations that are necessary for the strip. He assisted me on speaking engagements and was a definite asset. John was a handsome young man with a wonderful poised, relaxed speaking ability and he was fast becoming an expert on Tracy facts and history.
This lead to John's radio broadcasting days. He became acquainted with the host of a Chicago radio station. Carl Amari was an avid Tracy fan and had noticed John's penchant for inserting the name of rock stars, such as Bruce Springsteen and other stars, on street signs and other places in the strip. As a result, John received signed photographs from President Reagan and stars such as Bo Derek, Valerie Bertinelli, Mary Lou Retton, Brooke Shields and others. His invitation to have John on his program to discuss this led to many such appearances on his program. John had a wonderful radio voice and had a great gift for story telling.
All of this in turn led to another wonderful opportunity for John. The producers of the popular television show, Entertainment Tonight (ET), heard about the stars' names in the strips and the response he had gotten and scheduled a special interview program to be televised in John's office. Unfortunately, John died only four days before the scheduled taping in May of 1986.
I was very touched after John's death when my wife, Mary, and I received a lovely letter of condolence from President and Mrs. Reagan. We also received letters from other notables, in particular, Brooke Shields and her mother, Teri. They sent us a lovely card offering prayers and sympathy. For several years thereafter, they sent us delicious hams and a note of remembrance for Christmas.
One side of John that pleased us all was his quiet work helping others in need. Among other things, he achieved the rank of Eagle Scout, scouting's highest award. He worked with the sightless on his Eagle Scout special project to construct a special and unique nature walk that they could enjoy. The path still exists today.
He returned regularly to his high school, Naperville North High School, to give talks and encourage those interested in the arts. John had been an outstanding student there. In his junior year he had been awarded the Certificate of Honor in recognition of his excellence in scholarship by the administration and faculty of the school. He was graduated with high honors.
The State of Illinois honored him by naming him an Illinois State Scholar. He was further honored by having his name listed in the Who's Who Among American High School Students. John's accomplishments continued during his four years at Northern Illinois University where he won awards, participated in numerous art shows and achieved the honor of being on the college Dean's list twice.
After John's death, Allen Equi, Naperville North High School art instructor, one of John's close friends, formulated a plan to establish an art gallery at the school in John's memory. With Al's assistance and the donations of many generous Napervillians, the John Locher Art Gallery is now a reality. It is the only art gallery in a public school in Illinois. John would be proud to see the rotating and permanent exhibits of the students, local art leagues, minority groups, faculty and others.
In addition to the art gallery, John’s memory was also honored with the founding of the AAEC/John Locher Memorial Award in 1986 by members of the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists. They felt the need to establish an award that would not only honor the memory of John but would also discover and help young cartoonists. Since its inception, there has been a tremendous response to the award contest resulting in an outstanding winner every year since then. I am pleased that the majority of the winners have been successful in obtaining positions within their profession.
Almost daily I wonder why John had to leave us. There is so much deep thought and pain as Mary and I ponder the eternal question, "Why?" Perhaps we'll never know, but with the love, concern and enthusiasm of not only our friends, but his friends as well, we are attempting to construct a dedication to the arts, knowing that this is what John would like. A dedication that will bring into the art world those individuals who otherwise might never be discovered.
We take great delight in that -- and I know John would be smiling.