Sacramento Bee editorial cartoonist Jack Ohman was awarded the 2016 Pulitzer Prize on Monday for a portfolio of drawings exploring topics that included gun violence, marriage equality, terrorism and the state of the American political system.
Ohman, 55, won journalism’s highest honor for what the Pulitzer citation called “cartoons that convey wry, rueful perspectives through sophisticated style that combines bold line work with subtle colors and textures.”
Ohman watched the announcement on an Internet live stream in “The Hive,” a third-floor conference room in The Bee where he was surrounded by colleagues. As the announcement was made, Ohman’s co-workers broke into sustained applause and gave him a standing ovation. Minutes later, standing at a lectern amid a champagne celebration, Ohman said he “could not be prouder to work for The Sacramento Bee and the McClatchy Co.”
He recalled breaking into cartooning in 1978 and noted the giants of that era who had won Pulitzer Prizes for their work, including legendary cartoonists such as William “Bill” Mauldin and Herbert L. Block, or “Herblock,” as he was known.
“To win an award that they had won is truly overwhelming to me,” Ohman said.
Dan Morain, The Bee’s editorial page editor, called it a privilege to watch Ohman at work.
“We at The Sacramento Bee’s editorial board thank the Pulitzer committee for recognizing Jack Ohman with American journalism’s highest award,” Morain said. “We are privileged to see Jack’s creativity and talent on display every day, and we are fortunate to have such a great colleague and friend.”
Cheryl Dell, The Bee’s publisher and president, said, “Since 1910, The Bee’s editorial cartoonists have used humor and wit to opine. I’m so proud of Jack for following in their footsteps and for finding a way to deliver even more to readers.”
The prizes, administered by Columbia University, were announced at noon Monday in a ceremony that marked the 100th announcement of the annual awards.
Ohman’s winning entry, in the category of distinguished cartoon or portfolio of cartoons, includes a $10,000 award. It marks the sixth Pulitzer for The Bee, and the latest since photographer Renée C. Byer won in 2007 for feature photography.
Ohman came to The Bee in 2013 from The Oregonian in Portland. He was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2012 for that newspaper.
Since arriving in Sacramento, Ohman has established himself as a prominent voice on politics and social issues through his cartoons, a weekly humor column, a blog and via his alter ego, fictional California politician Joe King.
The portfolio of 20 cartoons submitted to the Pulitzer committee demonstrates his range of cutting humor and emotion.
One was drawn after the Jan. 7, 2015, terror attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo that killed 12 people. The magazine had published cartoons of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad, and Ohman’s drawing did the same, depicting the Prophet holding the Quran and asking masked terrorists, “Show me the page where it says, ‘Kill cartoonists.’ ”
Another drew from the racial tensions of riots in Ferguson, Mo., and showed a police officer aiming his pistol at the back of a young man. Ohman invited his readers to select the Lessons of Ferguson: “Excessive force must not be used, and all races must try harder to get along together.” Or, “Get it on video.”
He addressed the historic California drought, the rise of Republican GOP front-runner Donald Trump and the proliferation of mass shootings in the United States last year.
Ohman’s entry also featured some of his regular targets: California Gov. Jerry Brown and the governor’s beloved corgi, first dog Sutter Brown.
“From day one his work has resonated and made a difference,” said Dell. “Jack is not only incredibly talented artistically, he’s able to be thoughtful, funny and provocative with just a few words. Having said that, I’m still waiting to hear how first dog Sutter Brown feels about being drawn by a Pulitzer Prize winner.”
Morain said Ohman’s cartoons “are witty, pointed and often poignant.”
“Politicians’ hypocrisy and puffery are frequent targets,” Morain noted. “Though he is a proud gun owner, he often takes aim at the National Rifle Association.”
Ohman’s inspirations draw on the news of the day and his conversations with editors and colleagues as he roams the halls and newsroom of The Bee at 21st and Q streets, collaring anyone with a spare moment.
“Jack is brilliantly bizarre in how he views the world – and I mean that as a compliment,” said Bee Executive Editor Joyce Terhaar. “An editorial cartoonist needs to be able to take an event or issue and convey a position in one drawing. That’s tough, but Jack does it well.
“He’s biting. He’s funny. We’re lucky to have him.”
Ohman began drawing in 1978. His work is syndicated in about 200 newspapers nationwide. He was signed to a syndication contract while drawing for his college newspaper at the University of Minnesota.
Ohman came to The Bee after the 2012 death of his close friend Rex Babin, the newspaper’s editorial cartoonist since 1999. Upon learning he had won a Pulitzer, Ohman said, “the first thing that came to my mind was Rex.”
In addition to The Oregonian, Ohman previously worked at the Detroit Free Press and the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch.
His other honors include the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, the Scripps Howard Foundation Journalism Award and the national Society of Professional Journalists award.
The Sacramento Bee’s Pulitzer Prizes
1935: Public Service Gold Medal for a series of stories campaigning against a corrupt political machine in Nevada. Two federal judicial nominations were withdrawn as a result of the investigation.
1992: Public Service Gold Medal for the series “Sierra in Peril,” reports written by reporter Tom Knudson that detailed environmental threats to the Sierra Nevada.
1992: Beat Reporting prize for “The Monkey Wars,” a series written by Deborah Blum on ethical and moral questions involving primate research.
2005: Editorial writing prize to Tom Philp, who authored a series of editorials urging the reclamation of Hetch Hetchy Valley, which was flooded by a dam used to provide water to the Bay Area.
2007: Feature photography prize to Renée C. Byer for her photographs chronicling a single mother’s attempt to care for her young son as he succumbed to cancer.