Jack Ohman

Is a cartoonist a journalist?

Rube Goldberg, the Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist best known for his so-called "Rube Goldberg Devices," which were fantastical machines designed to perform mundane tasks, once asked his editor, "Is a cartoonist a journalist?"

His editor replied, "Is a barnacle a ship?"

Like many Americans last night, I was up until about 3:00 AM watching the gripping coverage of the chase of the Boston Marathon bomber, who, at this writing, has been in custody about fifteen minutes. He was hiding in a boat. I stayed up to watch this not so much as a voyeuristic exercise, but because, in fact, I am a journalist of sorts.

What this job requires, like most other jobs, is a lot of research and reading time, and the actual execution of the cartoon is almost ancillary, a relief from the more stressful aspect of paying attention to the news in order to glean a phrase or image that I can turn into a cartoon.

Finding a cartoon idea is an elusive process. A friend once called editorial cartoons "editorials in haiku form." I still haven't heard a better description.

As I have not done a cartoon about the apprehension of the suspect, I can guarantee you I will on Monday. I am constantly in search of phrases rather than images. I can translate the phrase to an image easily enough, even though to the typical reader, the drawing is the more marvelous aspect of the process. To me, it's the easy part.

One phrase that jumped out is "sheltering in place," the phrase police used to tell citizens to stay in their homes and stay away from windows. I am quite certain this will be my working phrase on Monday. Things can change of course, but I am grateful to have a little more time to reflect of precisely what I want to say and how I want to say it--a luxury in a deadline environment.

So I spent about five hours glued to my television to pull one phrase out of the pile of television and radio news broadcasts, tweets, and internet surfing. Maybe I won't even be able to use what I have, precisely. But we cartoonists have to put in the time to get there.

So, I don't know if that qualifies me as a journalist.

But my idea process is a Rube Goldberg device unto itself, and I don't know if I'm a journalist or not.

I know I'm not a barnacle, but I also know I'm not a ship.

And I am glad that the Boston police got a boat they needed.