By JP Trostle
Dick Locher took the podium at the AAEC Convention on Saturday morning, June 19, to talk about his life’s work and show attendees video news clips on two recent bronze sculptures he did, one of a new trophy for the Illinois-Northwestern college football game, and one of a giant statue of Dick Tracy for a waterfront park.
The highlight, though, was a story he told about his early days of being Chester Gould’s assistant on Dick Tracy in the 1950s.
Gould, said Locher, was an absolute stickler for details and accuracy. “‘I want that machine gun to look like a machine gun!’ he told me, and I knew I had better get it right,” relayed Locher. “It was a Friday afternoon and we were both getting ready to leave the office. I told him I would go to the library over the weekend to find reference art.”
Locher continued: “‘No need,’ he told me, ‘there’s one in my closet. Top shelf.’ And with that he left to catch his train. I went into his closet and reached up to the top shelf, and sure enough, all the way in the back was a Tommy Gun. Not a prop, a real one.” Not wanting to miss his train, the young assistant quickly wrapped the vintage machine gun in brown craft paper and stuck it under his arm. As he walked from the office in downtown Chicago to the train station, he noticed a police car slowly following him. He picked up his pace.
“A police officer called out to me,” recalled Locher, “‘Excuse me, son, can we talk to you for a minute?’ I kept moving, pretending I hadn’t heard. The police car pulled along side and the officer again called out to me. I stopped. ‘Whatcha got under your arm?’ he asked. Now, I didn’t want to miss my train, so I said, ‘a pizza.’”There were two cops in the car, and they now got out to question the cartoonist with a machine gun under his arm. Clearly they weren’t buying his explanation. “Officer,” Locher said, “I need to go or I’m going to miss my train. The policeman said, ‘Son, no one has walked around Chicago with a Tommy Gun under his arm in almost 30 years. You’re going to have to come with us.’”
Knowing he was busted, Locher responded, “Well, sir, it’s a funny story. You see, I work for Chester Gould, who draws Dick Tracy.
“‘I know,’ replied the officer, ‘he called us and told us to watch out for you.’ And with that, they gave me a ride home.”
After the laughter died down, Locher continued, “Now, I had to take the early train in the morning and I always got to the office before Chester Gould arrived, so the next Monday, when I got in to the office, I lowered the top of his drawing table a quarter inch. And every day for the next few weeks when I would get in, first thing I would lower it another quarter inch.”Dick Locher’s boss didn’t notice and continued to work hunched over at the drawing table. Locher laughed, “Finally, one morning he sat down at the table, his legs jammed under the desk. He looked up and said, ‘OK, kid, you got me.’”