Jack Ohman

March 26, 2013

Any questions? When editorial cartoons collide...

Jack Ohman

Editorial cartoonist, writer and Joe King’s alter ego

Planet Cartoon is a small one. There are about 50 or so full-time editorial cartoonists in the United States, and there is also a slightly larger number of syndicated editorial cartoonists.

Tom Meyer draws cartoons about California for various dailies and weeklies around the state, and he was formerly with the San Francisco Chronicle for about 25 years or so. He and I started cartooning at virtually the same time, and we have known each other forever. Or, about 25 years.

So it was fun for me to reconnect with Tom when I moved down here. Tom and I even grew up about three blocks from each other in Springfield, Virginia in the 1960s. We didn't know each other then.

When I first met Tom, I had been at The Oregonian about four years. Tom was at my first Association of Editorial Cartoonists convention (yes, there is one) in Washington, DC in 1987. We started chatting about our various interests. One of them happened to be coin collecting, for some reason. Since I have multiple children in college, I don't have any coins to collect these days. They're all at Knox College, The University of Oregon, and Portland State University in their permanent collections.

Anyway, I asked Tom if he wanted to go to the Smithsonian to see their coin collection, and he declined. He had to go visit his parents who lived in Northern Virginia. "Oh," I said, "my parents live in Northern Virginia."

"Huh. Did you grow up around here?" Tom asked.

"Yeah, I lived in Kings Park."

"I lived in Kings Park," Tom said.

"YOU'RE KIDDING. WHAT STREET?"

"I lived on (whatever it was)," he said.

"You're kidding! I lived on Perth Court!"

So, anyway, having established that we were practically editorial cartooning brothers, he asked me what my dad did.

"Oh, he has a high government job. Very senior."

"What?"

"He's Deputy Chief of the U.S. Forest Service for Research," I replied. "What did your dad do?"

"Oh, he had a high government job."

"Huh. What was that?"

"He was Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He's the Army Chief of Staff."

"Oh."

You know. Four stars. In charge of the United States Army. Like Eisenhower.

Anyway, Tom and became friends, and I rarely asked him to have his father send in a Ranger battalion for me to scare a neighbor's barking dog.

On Monday, I was making a rough sketch about the Kings that I couldn't quite get a fix on. I stopped halfway through. The plan was to draw something very intricate on the screen that indicated the Kings deal was complicated. A spokesman at a lectern with KJ asked, "Any questions?" I got another, simpler idea and moved on.

So I open up the paper Tuesday morning and see my cartoon. I scan down the page and see Tom Meyer's cartoon, which featured a man at a lectern in front of a blackboard with something complicated on it, asking, "Any questions?"

It was even oriented exactly the same way mine was.

I had not seen Tom's, and he certainly had not seen my rough. I called Tom and we talked about this, and about how I needed his father to send in another Ranger battalion against some new neighbor dogs.

People sometimes assert there are twelve basic novel plots. I'm not sure, and I haven't counted, but there may be twelve basic cartoon approaches. 

Now, does anyone have any questions?

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