Jack Ohman

Editorial cartoonist, writer and Joe King’s alter ego

A spiel on spelling, or lack of same...

04/04/2013 6:23 PM

04/05/2013 9:43 AM

One of the trickiest aspects of editorial cartooning, other than making sure the Supreme Court keeps the current libel laws in place, is lettering and spelling.

Today was an action-packed afternoon for me. I gave a speech to the Sacramento Press Club, which was a lot of fun. I always enjoy the high-wire tension of public speaking; it's very similar to the feeling of drawing a cartoon in which it's possible to make a mistake in front of a few million people. Later in the afternoon was an awards ceremony honoring three of our Bee reporters, Matt Weiser, Jon Ortiz, and Kevin Yamamura. A large chocolate cake was featured, and, being hungry from lack of food at my Press Club event, where I was the main course, I didn't really get to eat enough, so I was feeling a little...slow.

So when I finally got around to actually putting down the majority of ink on my drawing, it was about four o'clock. My deadline is a little flexible, but I like to be done before five, and preferably before four, which leaves me enough to time blog without feeling like I'm in a hostage situation, adrenaline junkie that I am.

So, in order to get done on time, I went into a speed-inking frenzy. And that includes lettering.

One should never letter quickly. Ideally, I'm focused on each and every letter, carefully making sure that the proportions are correct, the spacing is right, and the composition is good.

One thing that I usually don't have a problem with is spelling.

I consider myself a fairly good speller, for a cartoonist, but I must add I am not infallible. So I made a mistake.

I turned in a finished drawing, in color, with the word "bureaucracy" spelled improperly. Wrong, in fact. 


Now, look. I know how to spell bureaucracy. I also know how to spell pedantic, theorize, etiolate, anesthesia, and lots of other SAT words. But, today, of course, I have to misspell bureaucracy in front of the publisher, and my Columbia University School of Journalism Masters Degree-holding editor.

I call this a lettering error as opposed to a spelling error. 

A lettering error is where you go into this weird trance, let your mind drift, and you forget a letter. This is opposed to an actual spelling error, like "excellance," which was inscribed in a book to my ex-wife by an author who had sold several million copies of that very same book.

Presumably she had an editor help her.

And so do I.

Mr. Columbia J-school Editor caught it immediately, just as I was coming into his office to regale him with clever japes and bon mots about my Sacramento Press Club appearance, which required no spelling whatsoever, just the wearing of a navy blue suit and smoothly-operating mandible.

So I had to slink back into my office, and re-letter the cartoon, run it through Photoshop, re-color it, and send out a correction that included all my clients and the publisher of The Sacramento Bee, who I can assure you is an excellent speller. 

I have no idea about her lettering, but she has very nice handwriting.

I just want to show that we here in Arrogant Editorial Cartoonlandia have our own issues and weaknesses, and are willing to admit errors.

I need to spellcheck this.

About This Blog

Jack Ohman joined The Sacramento Bee in 2013. He previously worked at the Oregonian, the Detroit Free Press and the Columbus Dispatch. His work is syndicated to more than 200 newspapers by Tribune Media Services. Jack has won the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, the Scripps Foundation Award and the national SPJ Award, and he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2012 and the Herblock Prize in 2013. Contact Jack at johman@sacbee.com. Twitter: @JACKOHMAN.


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