More than a few of his cartoons reflected Conrad's strong Catholic faith: One potent antipoverty image in 1968 showed an African American baby curled on a filthy mattress in a dilapidated apartment, with the message: "Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger."
Los Angeles Cardinal Timothy Manning wrote Conrad that the cartoon was "offensive and a scandal." But rather than "undo the affront," as the cardinal demanded, Conrad fired off a letter suggesting that the cardinal had missed the point. The commonality of the human soul was much more important, Conrad argued, than physical similarity.
Conrad saw his role as reducing the complicated public questions of the day to one essential, powerful truth. "Editorial cartoonists are idealists, of another world," he said in the introduction to one of his seven books of cartoons. "Political, social and moral injustices are perceived as monstrosities" requiring the cartoonist to "sweep aside all the complexities and go to the basic issue; to take suspicions, coincidences and past events and record them larger than life."
The cartoonist reveled in goading elected officials he believed had forgotten the source of their power. He jousted with 11 presidents, beginning with Harry Truman, but took particular delight in skewering Nixon.
The Watergate scandal created a perfect convergence — Nixon's scheming and skullduggery pitted against Conrad's righteous indignation and furious craft. From the day after the illegal break-in — when he drew Nixon disguised as a phone company worker boring a hole in the wall at the Democratic National Committee headquarters — the cartoonist relentlessly pursued the wounded president.
Conrad rendered Nixon with brow furrowed, eyes ringed with dark shadows, head slumped into rounded shoulders — helping to cement the image of a desperate, paranoid chief executive. "His own worst enemy," said one cartoon of the glowering president, hunkered over his enemies list.
Others saw Nixon's 1994 death as occasion for absolution. Not Conrad. He drew the 37th president's grave with the words: "Here lies Richard Nixon." Of the glowing postmortems, Conrad pronounced: "I think it's sick. We know what the bastard did."
Conrad's contest with Reagan had an even longer run — beginning when the former actor was elected governor of California in 1966. In contrast to the dark and menacing Nixon, the cartoonist often portrayed Reagan as a buffoon, the "B" movie actor miscast as a statesman.
Then-Gov. Reagan would phone in his complaints early — interrupting Chandler at breakfast, according to author and historian David Halberstam. The Times publisher stopped taking the calls, only to have Nancy Reagan take up the attempt to stifle Conrad's pen. But the future first lady soon gave up, realizing Conrad had no intention of granting a cease-fire.
More than a decade later, Conrad continued to strafe Reagan — particularly disparaging his military buildup and social-program cuts as president. He drew Reagan bequeathing a $2.5-trillion federal debt to "our children, and to their children and to their children's children."
Although an unflinching partisan who swore he would never vote for a Republican, Conrad did not spare the Democrats. One image from the 1970s shows Lady Justice turning down a ride in a convertible with Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, after the scandalous car crash at Chappaquiddick that killed a young aide.
The philandering President Clinton also took his share of punches, including a cartoon in which Hillary Rodham Clinton wonders aloud if the president should be neutered, along with the family dog.
Liberal true believers saw Conrad as their muse. Many taped their favorite Conrads to their refrigerators. But even his biggest fans came to understand that the cartoonist could not be pigeonholed and that he probably wouldn't bend to make them happy.
His frequently tough assessments of Israel brought particular condemnation.
Conrad depicted Palestinians as the new lost tribe of the Mideast. When hundreds were slain in Palestinian refugee camps in the early 1980s, he drew a Star of David formed by the bodies of dead men, women and children.
"We had a hell of a time with the Jewish community. They came in delegations. It usually started out angry and sometimes became tearful," said former Times Editor William F. Thomas. "They were so upset about how Israel was being portrayed."
Conrad's take on abortion also inflamed anger and outrage, from both sides of the emotional issue.
For much of his early career, his Catholic faith informed his unstinting opposition to terminated pregnancies. "Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do ..." said a 1976 cartoon that showed a baby nailed to a cross. Not long after, the cartoonist explained: "Nobody can speak for the fetus. So, in that sense, I think the liberal stance should be against abortion."