“I tend to stay behind the scenes,” longtime Malibu Times cartoonist Fred Purucker said during a reluctant interview in 2014. “If nobody knows what I look like, I’m safe!”
Purucker, TMT cartoonist for more than two decades, died last week at the age of 89. Although his face may not be known to most of our readers, his clever, funny and sometimes pointed cartoons are surely familiar in households across Malibu; even though in later years Purucker’s health prevented him from creating weekly cartoons, the newspaper has continued to reprint his timeless takes on traffic, weather, local politics, family life, social issues and more.
In 2014, Purucker consented to an interview with Malibu Times reporter Jimy Tallal, where he described his early work with Disney, lifelong interest in art and how he came to Malibu.
A Point Dume resident for decades, Purucker said he’s always expressed himself on the page. “I’ve always been drawing, since I was little,” Purucker said. “I started cartooning for my high school paper.” As a teenager, he knew some of the artists who drew the Disney comic strips and actually did some work for a Disney cartoonist while still in high school. “But I didn’t actually do it for a living for a long time,” he said.
Back in those days, Purucker said, “Disney had a lot of Sunday cartoon strips, like Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, etc.”
Purucker graduated from UCLA with a degree in art, where he focused on painting and tended to think of his cartoons as “just doodles.”
He joined the Navy for three-and-a-half years, then landed a full-time job with Disney Studios. As a member of the Special Effects Animation Department there, Purucker spent most of the next five years creating weather/atmospheric effects and explosions for various Disney productions.
By that time, Purucker had a new family and decided to seek more stable employment. He said the people in his particular department didn’t usually get laid off, but there “were always massive layoffs” at Disney after major productions were finished, so he decided to look for a teaching spot.
He became an art teacher at Santa Monica High School for the next 34 years.
His wife, Mary, was a librarian at Juan Cabrillo Elementary School, driving every day from their home in West LA. “Eventually, we bought a place in Malibu” so she didn’t have to commute to work so far, Purucker said. “It’s just a nice, laid-back place to live.”
Purucker got his start with The Malibu Times several years after retiring from teaching. “In one of our community struggles, I can’t remember which one, I drew a cartoon for one of the groups and the paper got hold of it and published it,” he said. Some time after that he became a regular contributor. Purucker’s cartoons appear in Malibu Times archives from as far back as they have been digitized—1999—meaning he was contributing to the newspaper beginning in the contentious early days of the City of Malibu’s incorporation.
“Fred loved Malibu, SAMOHI, his students, hiking, the outdoors, photography, art, gardening and his family,” Mary told The Malibu Times upon his passing.
In 2018, Fred and Mary Purucker lost their home of 51 years to the Woolsey Fire and they were forced to relocate to Vista, Calif., where Fred died on Tuesday, June 30.
Fred is survived by his daughter, Katherine Daley; son, John Purucker; brothers, David (Barbara) and Kenneth (Anne); seven grandchildren and 10 great grandchildren. In lieu of flowers, his family asks that donations may be made in Fred’s name to your favorite charity.