Just about anyone who reads The Malibu Times and keeps up with local issues has gotten a chuckle out of the political cartoon that appears each week in the paper’s Opinion page. The cartoonist has an uncanny knack for getting to the heart of the often complex, divisive issues that face the city. His cartoons use humor, boil issues down to their simplest components and at the same time generally leave little doubt about the creator’s own opinion.
Meet 83-year old Fred Purucker—the man behind those cartoons for the past 14 years. In 2013 alone, he lampooned, among other things, the city’s decision to exchange Charmlee Wilderness Park for Bluffs Park, the chain store ordinance, the closing of Malibu’s Superior Courthouse, the new high school football field lights and a proposed tiger sanctuary.
In a phone interview, Purucker joked, “I tend to stay behind the scenes. If nobody knows what I look like, I’m safe!”
A Point Dume resident for decades, Purucker said he’s always expressed himself on the page. “I’ve always been drawing, since I was little,” Purucker said. “I started cartooning for my high school paper.” As a teenager, he knew some of the artists who drew the Disney comic strips and actually did some work for a Disney cartoonist while still in high school. “But I didn’t actually do it for a living for a long time,” he said.
Back in those days, Purucker said, “Disney had a lot of Sunday cartoon strips, like Mickey Mouse, Donald, Duck, etc.”
Purucker graduated from UCLA with a degree in art, where he focused on painting and tended to think of his cartoons as “just doodles.”
He joined the Navy for three-and-a-half years, then landed a full-time job with Disney Studios. As a member of the Special Effects Animation Department there, Purucker spent most of the next five years creating weather/atmospheric effects and explosions for various Disney productions.
By that time, Purucker had a new family and decided to seek more stable employment. He said the people in his particular department didn’t usually get laid off, but there “were always massive layoffs” at Disney after major productions were finished, so he decided to look for a teaching spot.
He became an art teacher at Santa Monica High School for the next 34 years.
His wife, Mary, was a librarian at Juan Cabrillo Elementary School, driving every day from their home in West LA. “Eventually, we bought a place in Malibu” so she didn’t have to commute to work so far, Purucker said. “It’s just a nice, laid-back place to live.”
Purucker got his start with The Malibu Times several years after retiring from teaching. “In one of our community struggles, I can’t remember which one, I drew a cartoon for one of the groups and the paper got hold of it and published it,” he said. Some time after that he became a regular contributor.
When asked how he knows one of his cartoons is good, or ready, Purucker confided that it’s not an exact process.
“I’m not sure I ever think they’re good,” he said. “Sometimes you start one and it’s not working out, so you start another one, but there’s always a deadline. Most cartoonists are working right up to the last minute.
“Once I get an idea, it takes me 3-4 hours to finish a real simple cartoon,” Purucker said, “but sometimes it takes me all day if there’s a lot of detail.”
His work process is decidedly low-tech. He works at an old drawing board. “Disney sold off a lot of their animation desks during layoffs,” Purucker said. “I draw on 13” by 14” animating/drawing paper left over from the studio. In the old days, we used bottles of India ink and an inkwell. Now I use Marks-A-Lots.”
Malibu Times publisher Arnold York said of Purucker, “He’s sweet and very nonconfrontational—all the acid comes out in his cartoons!” York’s approach to the cartoons is hands-off. “Occasionally, we’ll suggest an idea, but he calls the shots and he’s very talented,” York said. “He can draw and he’s got a real eye for political stuff.”
You generally won’t find Purucker attending any City Council meetings or other official functions, although he does take a keen interest in what’s happening in Malibu. “I read newspapers and you see different things happen,” he said.
The ideas for his cartoons “come from everywhere—everyday life, and what I read in the papers,” he said. “I try to find the humor and things just sort of pop up. I’m an observer.”