Jack Ohman

How to draw a political cartoon

When I'm asked how I get my cartoon ideas, I usually say that I subscribe to an idea service. The Inquiring Mind smiles and nods, satisfied that I, in fact, subscribe to an idea service, since one person couldn't possibly come up with a cartoon idea AND draw it.

Since I actually don't subscribe to an idea service, I have to come up with my own. 

Let's use the cartoon that ran today on the Nevada mental health system. So, I knew that my subject was going to be Nevada's unusual practice of exporting discharged patients to California. I had originally thought about doing a cartoon using the theme of Nevada's chief exports. I went to the internet to see what they were, and they weren't anything particularly amusing: gold and copper. So I was back to a blank sheet of paper.

I then proceeded to the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services website, where I went looking for possible phrases that I could expand to having a double meaning. In this context, that would be Nevada's practice of throwing the mentally ill with three days worth of meds on a Greyhound and calling it good.

I found four phrases I could work with: Transitional Housing, Psychiatric Hotline, Outpatient Counseling, and Mobile Outreach Safety Team. Now, in and of themselves, these aren't intrinsically amusing phrases, but in the deft hands of a trained American political cartoonist with a bachelor's degree from a state school, they were transformed into transcendent political satire (he exaggerates for comedic effect).

So, without having a drawn a pencil line or inked a brush stroke, I already had my idea down. I would just illustrate these four phrases with contrapuntal cartoon art, and I'd be on my way to a MacArthur grant or the Nobel Prize. 

In order for this undrawn idea to became an actual pencil rough, I then got out some highly technical gear to make this idea spring to life in the pages of The Bee. I pulled out a piece of copier paper (8 1/2" X 11") and a number two pencil. So space age. So yesterday it's tomorrow.

I blasted the drawing out quickly, making sure to spell everything right. Then I redrew it on a piece of smooth Strathmore drawing paper.

You can see that the pencil rough was quite different from the final drawing. I had changed "Los Angeles" to "Fresno," because I thought "Fresno" sounded more cartoony. I also thought "7:35" sounded better than "7:40."

"7:35" is a well-known humor device, like a chicken or a talking dog.

I also changed the order of the panels for pacing purposes, and rejiggered a punchline in the final panel for space and composition reasons. 

You people never think about my space and composition needs, do you? Never. Not once. And I thought you all cared.

In any event, once I got the pencil composition worked out, I then put down the ink, which looks like the hardest part but actually is the easiest for me; it's rather relaxing. 

Like a free bus ride to California.

Once I've inked the drawing, then I throw it on the scanner at 350 dpi (dots per inch), and zap it through Photoshop. Boom. Completed cartoon.

And you thought cartooning was hard. Nope.

It's just as easy as throwing someone on a Greyhound.