Jack Ohman

When editorial cartoonists gather, take cover immediately...

I'll be heading to the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists convention tomorrow, so I'll be out of pocket for a few days. Whenever I tell people that there is, in fact, an editorial cartoonist convention, I am invariably asked what precisely one does at such a gathering: "Do you talk about how big to draw the president's ears?"

And worse.

Editorial cartoonists talk about things that no one else in the United States is discussing at any given moment, like whether John Kerry has had plastic surgery that makes him look like a muppet (the answer to that is, God, yes, he has). If I ever decide I need to look like a muppet, please talk me out of it. 

We also discuss important technical issues in cartooning, like whether there will be any cartoonists left in America next year. We think that's an important technical issue. Another one is how to get stubborn india ink out from under our fingernails, which is another important technical issue. And whether to get gel nails for another six dollars.

Walk up to any group of hilarious editorial cartoonists you see, and you will hear laff riot phrases such as:

"I prefer the .08 nib for lettering and the .01 nib for crosshatching."

Or, "I left the top off of my ink bottle for a few days and now it feels all sludgy."

This is why we're so amusing in person. The fact is, most cartoonists aren't all that amusing in person. I am, of course, because of my natural Norwegian Minnesotan joie de vivre, but many of my peers are, shall we say, the kind of guys who won't shower with the others and keep pretty much to themselves and  never said anything to the neighbors before the tragedy. OK, that's an exaggeration, too.

Let me think. I would say editorial cartoonists look less interesting than they actually are, but many of them have amazing stories and backgrounds:

--Mike Keefe, the Pulitzer winner from the Denver Post, is ABD from a math Ph.D and a former Marine. He enjoys showing elaborate mathematical proofs while having beers. I have seen this. If I had Mike as a math teacher, I might have learned something.

--Joel Pett, another Pulitzer winner from McClatchy's Lexington Herald-Leader, speaks fluent French and lived in Africa for a long time growing up. He had dinner with Tommy Smothers the other night, which sounded really cool. I would have settled for Dick Smothers.

--Ted Rall, from Universal, grew up in a household where his Lt. Colonel father worked on the National Security Council. He told me one time, when he was a kid, he and his father once were taking off in commercial airliner, and his father was observing the ground speed out of the window, turned to Ted and said, "We're not going to make it." This could color the way one viewed the world going forward. Ted also was at Columbia University the same time as Barack Obama. He doesn't care for him based on that experience.

One thing many editorial cartoonists have in common are powerful fathers or vivid families: Rob Rogers' father was head of thoracic surgery at Carnegie Mellon; Tom Meyer's father was Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and so on. Chan Lowe, from the Sun Sentinel in Florida, is the son of the entertainer Carol Channing. The late Jeff MacNelly's father was publisher of The Saturday Evening Post. Pat Oliphant, who is being honored at this convention, is the nephew of a former Manhattan Project physicist and the former Governor of South Australia.

I need to close, as I have a lot to do before I leave.

I have to hone my .08 nib anecdotes for the guys at the bar.