Jack Ohman

Raising the bar at the editorial cartoonist convention...

Yesterday, I referenced the fact that there is, indeed, an Association of American Editorial Cartoonists. Now, I know you're all wondering this: what could a bunch of cartoonists, who are kind of born anarchists, be doing in a formal organization where they get together, talk about bylaws, and have table manners?

Well, not only do we meet, we have officers ( I'm Vice President, and it's as powerful as it sounds), rules, points of order, budgets, and other accoutrements of the Real World, just like you.

I've been in the group 25 years, and when I first went to a convention in Washington, D.C., in 1987, we had about 225 editorial cartoonists, more or less, some active and some retired, working on daily newspapers. Now there are around fifty, give or take. Mostly take. I suspect this is a rather similar attrition rate in a lot of sectors in the daily newspaper economy, but we are indeed a small fraternity/sorority.

I would say that, given the fact that there are around fifty editorial cartoonists, that I am very close friends with 20 of them, hail-fellow-well-inked with another 20, and casually cordial with the other ten. There are a few party poopers in the profession who are not members, but we think it's kind of a Groucho thing: why join a club that would have them as members?

We have panels at our conventions. About WHAT, you may ask? Well, we talk about technical innovations in the craft, such as new drawing equipment like the Wacom Cintiq, an electronic drawing tablet that I'm always almost ready to buy (it is very cool), and the latest animation and Photoshop programs. I haven't done animation, mostly because I think it's too time-consuming and takes time away from, you know, actual editorial cartoons that run in the paper. There are some brilliant animators, like Mark Fiore (who won the Pulitzer) at SFGate, and Ann Telnaes from The Washington Post. Walt Handelsman at Newsday does them, AND he does the voices and music. It's really rather amazing.

Walt is probably one of the most personally amusing of all the editorial cartoonists, and extremely vocally gifted. I recall many nights at the convention where he would imitate a fax carrier signal. In fact, his fax noise is so uncanny that he once called his mother's machine and activated it...with his impression.

Do that, Rich Little.

I'm glad he doesn't imitate a launch code for nuclear missiles.

The cartoonist convention used to be a hotbed of internecine warfare, with little cliques and splinter cells breaking off and muttering darkly about who didn't deserve the National Headliner Award or who shouldn't be syndicated, but now we are all rather genteel in our tiny enclave. We are simply glad to be here. I'm not saying there aren't still Moments of Intrigue, but generally we sit quietly and thank God we have jobs.

The convention will be held this year in Salt Lake City, which should cut down on the hijinks normally associated with conventioneers. We'll be hosting Pat Oliphant, the dean of editorial cartooning in the United States, and Vic Navasky, who was editor of The Nation, and the author of a forthcoming book about editorial cartoons.

People always ask me what Pat is like. I barely know him. I have had several pleasant short chats with him. But I will say that Pat draws the funniest cartoons at the bar, by far, that I have ever seen. All the action at the AAEC convention is at the bar, where all the cartoonists get together and draw each other. All night.

For free.

So if you want to have a fun time, go the editorial cartoonists convention.

We'll only charge you a $350 registration fee.

But you're going to save money on the caricatures at the bar.