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 Rick (Richard) E. Fletcher  (1916 - 1983)

About: Rick (Richard) E. Fletcher
 

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Lived/Active: Illinois/Iowa      Known for: comic-strip illustration-Dick Tracy, commercial art

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Ad Code: 4
Rick (Richard) E. Fletcher
50th Anniversary Dick Tracy
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following information is from Richard Ross Fletcher, son of the artist.  He wrote: "I have compiled this biography with my father's files, family discussions and biographical information he used while working for the Chicago Tribune.

Rick Fletcher was born in Burlington, Iowa on June 1, 1916 to William and Maude Fletcher. He was the second of four children: Russell, Richard, Martha and Edward. At an early age, Rick had a keen interest with drawing. Encouraged by his mother, he drew everyday and studied art and anatomy books from the local library teaching him perspective, composition, color and technique. Frequently asked how he learned his art skills, “I say that I go to art school at the library.”

After graduating from Burlington High School with the class of 1934, Rick and his family moved to Galesburg, Illinois where his father worked for the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad as a fireman on the steamers and later as an engineer on the stainless steel Burlington Zephyr; his mother was a happy homemaker that loved to raise her family and cook wonderful meals including Eggplant Parmesan, Ricks favorite home meal.

Ricks career growth in 1935 was quite remarkable. During March, still 18 years old, Rick and his younger sister Martha started a business. Rick would design and draw paper dolls and Martha would sell them at school to her friends. His diary entry said “Made twenty six cents”. Rick also entered the Knox Laundry Anagram contest, winning three tickets to the Orpheum Theater. The following week he used his little brother Ed's name and won first place again. The third week he entered with a neighbor girls name and won again. Another quote from his diary said; “The president of Knox Laundry asked the girls’ sister if ‘Rick Fletcher didn’t do the drawing’. My reputation is getting out”.

On May 2nd 1935 Rick won a twenty-two dollar Mixmaster food mixer in the Doyle’s Furniture Store contest, this boosted his confidence. He gave the food mixer to his mother, Maude, for her help and support with starting his art career.

September 26th 1935 Rick wrote to a longtime friend, Joe Weber, who was working as a photographer at the new Tri City Star newspaper in Davenport, Iowa, asking about the possibility of a job in the art department.  Mr. Hinkle, the publisher, liked Ricks work and hired him for fifteen dollars a week starting October 3rd 1935.  Rick soon moved to Davenport, Iowa to become a one-man art department; within a week he complained in his diary “work is coming in too fast to get any quality” but decided “composition is what puts the drawing over”. Rick went to the Davenport Library for more studying.

Rick worked at the Tri City Star for two years after which he found a more desirable position at the Rudy A. Moritz Advertising Agency in Davenport Iowa. He was hired as the Art Director allowing him more time to produce a higher quality art; producing ads and campaigns for national accounts.

Ricks final entry in his 1935 Art Diary summed up the enthusiasm for his career. “This has certainly been some swell year, all because of my artwork. My first big cash in was the Mixmaster food mixer that I won and gave my mother, and then the big achievement which was the job at The Tri City Star. My greatest help has been from Joe Weber and Mr. Hinkle, the Publisher of the Star and the Beacon Publishing Company…I can consider 1935 as a year I was launched in my career, which I hope will reap me rich rewards and fame in the future, it really was an eventful year.”

In 1942, Rick’s career was interrupted by World War II. He went to Camp Dodge, Iowa on September 29th1942, then on to Officer Candidate School at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. He was commissioned in the Corp of Engineers, April, 1943 and Assigned as a First Lieutenant S-1 Adjutant to 308th Engineer Combat Battalion with the 83rd infantry Division. Rick went through five European military campaigns from D-Day +10 at Omaha Beach, the Battle of Normandy through the hedgerows zigzagging across France, into Belgium, Holland and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. He raced through the German Wehrmacht into Germany along with his 83rd Infantry Division when General Eisenhower ordered the Army to stop. He was in Zerbst, Germany near the Elbe River just eighty eight miles from the bunker where Hitler was hiding in Berlin.

Two weeks later Hitler committed suicide in the bunker when the Russian Army invaded from the eastern front. At the end of the war until his trip back to the United States, Rick was assigned many duties, one as a Commanding Officer of the Sonndorf Prisoner of War Camp in Germany, another duty was purchasing and contracting officer to build camps for Displaced Persons and Prisoners of War, plus assignments as a Trial Judge Advocate.  During his military duty in Europe, Rick received the Bronze Star Medal for distinguishing himself by meritorious service in connection with military operations against an enemy of the United States.

Aside from his regular duties in the U.S. Army, Rick hand lettered signs and painted vehicles. He passed time by drawing caricatures of himself expressing his moods in his letters home. Ricks methods of drawing with paper and pen became increasingly difficult as many supplies were scarce while overseas. Rick frequently relied on his 35mm Leica camera to produce quick convenient photographs throughout Europe; he took images of citizens, soldiers and landscapes, eventually making a photo scrapbook and a watercolor painting of Belgian peasants he had photographed from his jeep. He was separated from service as a Captain on February 27th 1946. His name is inscribed in the Book of Honor at the Court of Patriots - Rock Island Arsenal Museum, located on the same property as the National Cemetery in Rock Island, Illinois where he is currently buried along with his wife Beverly.

After the war he was offered a job at two locations, the Chicago Tribune and a local engraving studio. In a diary entry Rick wrote he decided to choose the Tribune because “I just liked walking down Michigan Avenue and going into the Tribune Tower, which has quite a mystique in Chicago”.

Rick joined the advertising art department in April 1946 handling illustrations and cartooning. Rick studied for several years under personal supervision of Carey Orr, Pulitzer Prize winning Chief Editorial Cartoonist; learning advanced comic strip technique. Carey Orr taught many illustrators, including (then high school student) Walt Disney in 1917. Tribune colleagues took notice of Rick’s work which showed quality and versatility. While he worked in the advertising department Rick continued to pursue opportunities in illustration by submitting original samples of his own work to editors at the Chicago Tribune.

The Old Glory Story was Rick’s first weekly syndicated full color adventure strip starting in February 1953. Written and researched by Athena Robbins, this award-winning story guided readers through the history of the American Flag. The unique aspect of The Old Glory Story was all the stories, flags, people, uniforms, weapons and transportation were illustrated with historical accuracy and reproduced in full color every week until April 1966. Following is a list of them:

The Old Glory Story 2-15-1953 – 9-25-1955
Daniel Boone 10-2-1955 – 1-8-1956
George Rogers Clark 1-15-1956 – 4-29-1956
John Sevier 5-6-1956 – 8-19-1956
Captain Robert Gray 8-26-1956 – 11-18-1956
Mad Anthony Wayne 11-25-1956 – 2-17-1957
Lewis and Clark 2-24-1957 – 7-7-1957
Zebulon Pike 7-14-1957 – 10-6-1957
Stephen Decatur 10-13-1957 – 12-29-1957
William Henry Harrison 1-5-1958 – 4-6-1958
Andrew Jackson 4-13-1958 – 8-24-1958
Stephen F Austin 11-30-1958 – 2-22-1959
Astorians of Oregon 3-1-1959 – 5-24-1959
Lewis Cass 5-31-1959 – 8-23-1959
Jed Smith 8-30-1959 – 12-27-1959
Dewitt Clinton 12-20-1959 – 3-13-1960
Sam Houston 3-20-1960 – 6-12-1960
Great Western Migration 6-19-1960 – 9-11-1960
Kit Carson 9-18-1960 – 12-25-1960
Old Glory at the Crossroads 1-1-1961 – 6-6-1965
Frontier Adventures 6-20-1965 – 4-17-1966

Meanwhile, back in 1961, while working on Old Glory at the Crossroads, an opportunity arose from Chester Gould, the creator of Dick Tracy and Rick’s colleague from the Chicago Tribune.  Gould’s young assistant, Dick Locher, had to leave for family reasons; Gould hired Rick as a part time assistant artist whose duties included penciling panels, illustrating and inking backgrounds, advertising layout and illustration, as well as developing story lines. During the spring of 1962 Gould hired Rick on a full time basis to be part of the Dick Tracy production team which at the time included Chester Gould’s brother, Ray for lettering; Jack Ryan also production art and Chicago Police Detective Al Valenis for police related research.

Rick concurrently worked on The Old Glory Story and Dick Tracy from 1961 until the last  strip finished in April 1966. Rick performed on Chester Gould’s production team for the Dick Tracy comic strip continuously for 16 years 1961-1977, learning Gould’s unique drawing and story style Rick called “Gouldism”. This experience and an already award winning illustration career led Tribune executives and Chester Gould to unanimously agree to have Rick Fletcher take over production of Dick Tracy when Gould retired on December 24th, 1977.

Working with a young new writer, Max Allen Collins, Rick began flexing his abilities by equipping Tracy with state of the art equipment: a nickel plated Colt Trooper MKIII .357 magnum revolver with illuminated night-sights and the 2-way wrist TV (which Rick created with his younger brother Ed in 1963 while working with Gould) Rick individually illustrated the Dick Tracy comic strip for five productive years, always researching the latest technologies, current trends in popular culture and the opinion of his fans. Rick also utilized proper law enforcement techniques and procedures learned from several of his friends in law enforcement: from the Dakota County Minnesota Sheriffs Office, Julio Santiago, other friends working at the Federal Bureau of Investigation and his old friend Al Valenis from the Chicago Police Department.

Rick Fletcher died in Woodstock, Illinois on March 16, 1983 from cancer.  He is buried in the Rock Island National Cemetery in Rock Island, Illinois.

Footnotes:
 1935 art diary entry
 1935 art diary entry
 1935 art diary entry


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