The complete works of nationally recognized editorial cartoonist Randy Wicks, who drew pointed and poignant illustrations of local and worldwide life for The Signal, has been donated to the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society.
The collection has been under the care of Kiza Hilton, who led a group of more than 300 volunteers in the collection, organization and preservation of the 504 local and 3,182 national cartoons after Wicks’ death in 1996. Hilton noted that completing the task took several months.
“This was my way of grieving,” Hilton said. “They were treasures. Randy used to call the cartoons his children.”
The cartoons donated range in size from the standard 8- by 10-inch to much larger formats, and include smaller sketches found in his Signal studio. Volunteers working on the collection noted how his artwork became more sophisticated over his years at the paper.
“It is heartwarming to give this collection to the Historical Society,” Hilton said. “Randy was such a big part of this community. Everybody knew who Randy was and they appreciated his insight into local and national issues. Always professional, he was exceptionally aware of what was happening in our community and the world. He was creative, brilliant and had a heart of gold.”
Hilton said that Wicks didn’t sell his cartoons for his own benefit, instead donating them to nonprofit organizations for their fundraisers. She also said that if he gave away a cartoon he liked, he would often re-draw the same cartoon.
Historical Society archivists have set to work placing original cartoons in archival sleeves to preserve them, although most of the collection is in very good condition thanks to the original volunteer group’s efforts. Once archiving is completed, the cartoons will be available to interested parties onsite through the research library and may be part of rotating exhibits in the developing museum of local history in Heritage Junction.
Wicks was born in Belmond, Iowa, and attended CalArts, graduating in 1980. He had a deep admiration for Signal editors Scott and Ruth Newhall, and he soon joined the staff as the editorial cartoonist. Always the first person in the newsroom on weekdays, he would read The Signal and the two major Los Angeles newspapers before the reporters came in and was eager to discuss the news with anyone who would listen. He drew his thought-provoking cartoons for 16 years before his sudden death at the age of 41.
The Wicks collection joins another significant donation related to The Signal, as Publisher Richard Budman gave the Historical Society nearly 1 million images from The Signal’s photo archives, dating from the late 1960s to the early 2000s.
The Wicks collection also includes a set of 31 “reader” binders that contain copies of each cartoon, classified by subject. Four sets of the binders were created; one has been donated to the Historical Society, another set resides at the Los Angeles County Library in Stevenson Ranch, another went to the library in Belmond, Iowa, and one is part of the collection of the National Cartoonists Society, now the International Museum of Cartoon Art at Ohio State University.
“Our community is indebted to Kiza for her painstaking preservation and caring stewardship of Randy’s body of work all these years and for finding it the perfect permanent home, where it can continue to entertain and enlighten current and future generations,” said Leon Worden, vice president of the Historical Society. “I’m not sure people know just how unusual it was for a community of our size, as small as it was 40 years ago, to have its own full-time, professionally trained editorial cartoonist.”
“It’s weird to see how many of Randy’s cartoons could have been drawn today, with topics ranging from local housing development to abortion and high gas prices, which had just skyrocketed to a buck and a quarter in 1995,” Worden said. “You could easily lose an afternoon flipping through the beautifully housed reader set.”
Santa Clarita Mayor Laurene Weste, whose home is decorated with a few special framed Wicks cartoons, is happy that another generation will be able to enjoy his work.
“We’ve all wanted to see Randy’s work – a lifetime achievement – accessible and seen by the public,” Weste said. “He was an incredible gift to our community, no, to the world. His kind of art took comprehension. He thought about things going on and distilled it down to something you could understand immediately.
“He started out as an Iowa farm boy, but his work became amazing pieces of Americana,” Weste said. “No matter when it was drawn, his cartoons bring out a new awakening of issues. He will always be timely.”
“Randy’s cartoons, particularly as part of a collection, will forever provide a critical look into our valley’s history, its values, its lifestyle, and sense of humor,” said former Signal Editor Tony Newhall, who recalled when the young Wicks was hired. “Having a personal cartoonist of Randy’s caliber on the staff of The Signal was a luxury that few community newspapers ever have. Randy had a talent that was not learned, but something that he was born with. His cartoons became part of the community and an important part of the lives of the Signal readers.”
“Randy Wicks was a community treasure, and a good friend,” said Signal Editor Tim Whyte, who worked closely with Wicks for seven years. “I feel privileged to have had a front-row seat to see his creativity firsthand. One of the highlights of my day was always when Wicks would stop by my desk to show me what he was working on for the next day’s edition. I’m ecstatic to hear that his originals are going to be preserved for future generations to appreciate. His cartoons serve as a window into 16 important years of our shared history.”
“Having Randy create political cartoons at a small-town daily was like having St. Peter show up at the local archdiocese to give the midnight mass sermon,” said Signal columnist John Boston. “You had — literally — one of the best political cartoonists WHO EVER LIVED working at The Mighty Signal. Wicks was part angel, part genius, part little kid, part tireless Santa Clarita and Planet Earth cheerleader and if this quote gets back to him, I’m denying it and punching the leaker in the nose.
“In all our years of friendship, I saw the guy eat, like — once. How a guy could summon the energy to create that staggering body of work over the years from 37 cheap-asterisk vending machine cups of coffee is stunning,” he continued. “You could loan Randy six bent ink lines and he could draw a lion, Nixon, the Mona Lisa and Tommy Lasorda making out — all in the same cartoon.”
Heritage Junction remains closed to visitors due to an extensive restoration project currently underway, but Randy Wicks’ cartoons are available for viewing online at RandyWicks.com.