Jack Ohman

About face: Sacramento's cast of characters

To readers, caricature is probably the most interesting aspect of what cartoonist do, and yet cartoonists, mostly, don't discuss it as much as you might think.

That's because all cartoonists think they're the best caricaturists. Or most of them do, anyway.

I remember one conversation between several editorial cartoonists and a (now retired ) very senior newspaper editor in the 1990s chiding the group for not "having Clinton down" the way a (frankly, very few) cartoonists (Oliphant, Conrad, Mike Peters) had Nixon down in the 1960s and 70s.

Each cartoonist kind of looked down into their plate of jambalaya and sniffled. One said, brightly, "I have Clinton down!" But the editor was unconvinced.

The thing is, the editor was very hung up on the outward appearance of a cartoon, and not what the cartoonist was saying.

I'm a caricature person, myself. I pride myself on it and I work on it. Hard. But a great caricature doesn't save a weak idea. A great idea saves a lousy caricature, and, trust me, there are a few cartoonists who get what I would define as likenesses, but not true caricatures. Caricatures capture in a few strokes what the intended target's essence is, without a single word.

One of my very talented colleagues, Joel Pett, is always kind of downplaying his caricature ability in private conversations with his peers. And yet he manages to really nail people in a devastating manner--ask him to draw Mitch McConnell for you sometime. So, he's wrong.

Tom Toles is another cartoonist who is really amazing at a simple yet effective caricature. He, too, kind of pooh-poohs his talents in this regard.

Most cartoonists would also agree that in our profession, Kevin Kallaugher (KAL) is really top-notch as well. I recall one time sitting around with him talking about Clinton caricatures. I drew one, and he said, that's close, but you got the eyes wrong. They slant up instead of down. Huh.

He was right, and I hadn't noticed it.

Good caricaturists notice things like that.

KAL also drew what I considered the most accurate caricature of me I had ever seen. Of course, cartoonists drawing each other is pretty devastating, and it's rather painful as well.

I'm sure my neck didn't look like that. It's one of the reasons I decided to lose 30 pounds.

You know, just in case a cartoonist sneaks up on me.

Coming into a new situation like Sacramento required me to learn a bunch of new characters very, very quickly. There was one (I'm not going to say who it was) who objected, subtly, to (their) portrayal. I decided (that person) was right. Others I think I've been easy on, relatively speaking. Not deliberately. I really try to just convey what they look like, rather than make their appearance a statement about them, per se. They can't help how they look, and I wish I had a different neck myself sometimes. 

But I'll have some time to get them down. 

Meanwhile, I am working on the proper position of Corgi ears.

He'll never write and complain.