Conrad the Cartoonist, Conrad the Balloonist

Imagine my surprise when I opened up the morning paper (May 6) to see the picture of an older man, concentrating in earnest, accompanied by the headline: "Swiss, Cartoonist Win Balloon Race." That's all well and good, but what does it have to do with local news in Los Angeles? As I soon learned, the Swiss was Regula Hug-Messner, and the cartoonist was none other than The Times' own Paul Conrad.

For Angelenos, Conrad is a rite of passage, much like one's first beer, or initial semester of college finals. When you begin to grasp the world of politics, Conrad's editorial cartons titillate. As one becomes a seasoned student of governmental dealings (and a bit more opinionated) Conrad inspires laughter and evokes rage.

His caricatures and accompanying epigrams cut across political boundaries. My conservative Republican parents are just as likely to have a Conrad cartoon affixed to their refrigerator as their liberal daughter is. Conrad's pen knows few bounds.

We discuss his cartoons at work, pasting them up on our office doors, and near the Xerox machine where everyone can view the barb that tickles our individual fancy.

Those of us in the news business have been known to have our underworked graphics departments blow up particularly relevant episodes, so we could mount and frame them.

After one has experienced the laughter and ire of Conradian appreciation, the final stage is acceptance. Hence, one laughs at most of his cartoons, even ones that raise our hackles.

Conrad's work and the ensuing discussion on his home turf is a unique Los Angeles occurrence, which we often take for granted. For that reason, it's a pleasure to call attention to a different side of him; the one who with Hug-Messner co-piloted the balloon, Los Angeles Times, to safety after a 526.6-mile flight. Slipping quietly into a nearby wicker basket, he changed from biting cartoonist to courageous and mild-mannered balloonist--and back again. He did it all in 15 hours, and 38 minutes, while most of us slept, dreaming of cartoons to come.



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