Dirk West, Cartoonist

Dirk West was a cartoonist and illustrator whose name was well known to those who followed the old Southwest and Big 12 conferences in sports.  Gerald Glynn “Dirk” West was born October 23, 1928 in Littlefield, Texas to James Marion and Ethel Raye Bennett West.  The family moved to Lubbock shortly after he was born, so West grew up there and graduated from Lubbock High School, where he began drawing cartoons for the school newspaper, Westerner World.

In the early days of television, West had also hosted a local children’s program on the television station now known as KLBK, playing a character named “Uncle Dirk.”  The station was created by W. D. “Dub” Rogers and operated initially under the call letters KDUB.  West also attended Texas Tech University where he drew cartoons for the campus newspaper, Daily Toreador (formerly known as the University Daily), and earned a degree in business in 1954, majoring in advertising.  A decade later, Burle Pettit, then the sports editor of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, asked West to consider drawing a cartoon each week for the sports section, leading to West’s creation of mascot characters for all the Southwest Conference teams and teams of one of its successors, the Big 12 Conference.  His first Southwest Conference cartoon appeared September 24, 1964.  Pictured below is an illustration of the Big 12 mascots from around the 1990s.  Clockwise from the top, you have the Baylor Bear, Colorado Buffalo, Iowa State Cyclone, Kansas Jayhawk, Kansas State Wildcat, Missouri Tiger, Nebraska Cornhusker, Oklahoma Sooner Schooner, Oklahoma State Cowboy, Texas Longhorn, Texas A&M Aggie, Texas Tech Raider Red.

dirkwest

(Image credit: ttu.edu)

Those who followed either conference could look forward to seeing West’s cartoons each week before and after the games, and he spared no team from his good-natured humor.  For instance, the cowboy hat of his Texas Tech mascot “Raider Red” would reportedly sport one new bullet hole for each successive loss.  Other losing teams’ mascots would show bandages, crutches and the like.

West’s Raider Red character (placed roughly at 11:00 in the image above) inspired the school student mascot adopted by Texas Tech University.  Texas Tech Today tells of the alumnus who built the first student mascot head out of paper mache over chicken wire in 1971, styled after West’s cartoon character.  Since then, the Raider Red character has appeared at events including those where its other mascot, the masked, mounted and caped rider, is either not appropriate or is not allowed to appear.  Live mascots are now banned at many college events, so most schools have adopted costumed mascot characters.

Texas Tech engaged West to illustrate its football and basketball game programs.  He also created illustrations for charities and for personal friends on special occasions.  He later penned political cartoons for the Avalanche-Journal from time to time.

Dirk served several terms on the city council in Lubbock and in 1978 was also elected mayor of Lubbock, serving one term before retiring from political office.  During his tenure as mayor, he was able to establish and implement a federally funded program to expand Lubbock’s police presence in an effort to target speeding and intoxicated drivers. He was also instrumental in the creation of Crime Line, which is a program that allows citizens to report crimes in the area.  We have read that the overall experience caused West to develop a dislike for politics.  Another report stated that West had made a campaign promise to serve only one term if he were to be elected and honored that promise by retiring when his term was complete.

Many readers received his athletic cartoons in the light-hearted spirit that he intended, but from time to time, the drawings would attract the ire of fans of the losing teams.  After a close 17-14 Aggie loss in football to the Red Raiders in 1972, a local reader wrote a letter to the editor of the Avalanche-Journal, stating “No one in my family has ever gone to [Texas] A&M University: however, I resent the vicious Dirk West cartoons that always depict the Aggies as stupid, blithering idiots…”  Apparently not seeing the humor in his cartoons, the reader added that it was too bad that West was spoiling the drawings with his “spite and prejudice.”  West took it in stride and continued on with his cartoons.  In 1972, the Red Raiders went on to post one of their better records of the Jim Carlen era, finishing 8-4 including a close 28-32 loss to No. 16 North Carolina in the Sun Bowl, while the Aggies finished with a dismal record of 3-8.

Dirk died of an apparent heart attack on July 15, 1996 in Lubbock, Texas.  He is interred in the City of Lubbock cemetery.  After his death, his family donated the rights to the Raider Red character to the University to benefit a scholarship fund.  West was inducted into the West Texas Walk of Fame in 1997, and the Texas Tech Hall of Honor in 1999.

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