Jack Ohman

Oh, the dangers of drawing caricatures

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Minimum water... johman@sacbee.com

Out of sheer necessity (of course) I had to draw Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon in last Sunday’s cartoon. The speaker, to my knowledge, has never appeared in a political cartoon – it’s a small rite of passage for any politician.

When I’m working out a caricature sometimes I have a lot of time to slave over the rendering, and sometimes I have 30 seconds. If I have time I also look at a video or two to get a sense of the subject’s face in motion. With Rendon I was under the gun. I went to Google Images and typed in “Anthony Rendon.”

Normally I am not a slave to my Twitter feed, but I checked it last Sunday, and there was a tweet from the speaker.

“@JACKOHMAN Is my nose really that big?”

Oh boy.

I tweeted back, “@Rendon63rd Does a corgi talk?”

Rendon then followed me on Twitter. You know, just to make sure he knew what I was up to. I don’t blame him.

Right after I started at The Bee in 2013 I got an email from Speaker John A. Pérez’s press person. She said the speaker would like to meet me “for five minutes.”

In a subsequent email I observed that I didn’t do five-minute meetings. “Five minutes” would be a missive from a mob guy or an ex-wife, depending. I told her that I have breakfast, lunches and dinners. I have coffee. I have drinks. But not five-minute meetings.

An email came back inviting me to the speaker’s office for drinks.

This was the first time in my career where I was summoned to explain myself to a politician. As I am a Minnesotan and a pleaser I decided to go to see what he wanted but mostly to check out his office, which was truly spectacular.

We chatted amicably for a few minutes. We had some things in common. We had a mutual cartoonist friend who was his college roommate. Then Pérez cut to the chase; it was not about his massive rubber duck collection.

“I suppose you know what I’m upset about.”

“Um, well. No.” Although I thought he might be upset about his general portrayal in one of my cartoons.

“You drew me in a green tie; I never wear green ties,” Pérez noted.

Hey, who am I to continue to draw a speaker in the wrong-colored tie? Not me. I totally get that. You wouldn’t catch me dead in a green tie.

“OK, no more green ties.” Then we dived back into conversation, which mostly consisted of him quizzing me about what I knew about antipopes after I made one of my trademark jokes about the 13th century.

When Speaker Toni Atkins was elected she came to The Bee editorial board. My editor said, “She wants to meet you.”

OK, fine. Why not? I would need to make note of her color preferences anyway.

Atkins immediately said she wanted to make sure I didn’t draw her from a certain angle. I actually empathized with her. Here she was, making something of herself in California politics, and she was sweating how I drew her.

I said something like, I’m a political cartoonist not a political assassin. Don’t worry.

She was truly warm and likeable.

Now Rendon is probably thinking, God, I have to look at this jerk’s cartoon every day to make sure my nose isn’t the size of Yolo County? Great.

I have never met Rendon but if we ever do I’d be happy to go back and check the photos again. And I’d tell him he could choose his own tie color.