Friday, February 17, 2006

Jack Ohman come home

I'm a fan of Jack Ohman, the Oregonian's nationally syndicated cartoonist. I think Jack is on the short list of political cartoonists who have not yet won the Pulitzer. I won't be surprised when he wins it.

Ohman approaches issues from a decidedly different perspective than me, but I have always enjoyed his wit and cleverness that came through so clearly in his cartoons. He's extraordinarily talented.

That said, I think Ohman has been on a long dry spell, in which his cartoons have become disappointingly predictable. It's not just that the message of his cartoons has failed to surprise of late, but the cleverness that distinguished him from his less talented peers has seemed to give way to a daily drumbeat of the same unimaginative, shopworn images, whether his subject is of local or national interest.

I can't quite put my finger on it, but it seems as if there used to be a certain underlying joy in the way he did his work. Even if he was characterizing his target in a severely negative light, there was a certain lightness of being in the way he did it, a humor, or a unique way of presenting his point that often made me marvel at his craft, even as I disagreed vehemently with it.

His cartoons rarely seemed mean-spirited, and the statement his images were almost always sophisticated - the equivalent of a serious intellectual argument rather than a sound-bite.

I've always considered political cartoons to be one of the most powerful of all mediums. I've wished I had the talent to do them well. Because of the unique forum a political cartoonist has -- with the ability to combine an image with text to drive home a point, a cartoonist is able to take a political argument directly from premise to conclusion without the need for the intermediate step that regular columnists must forge - logical argument.

So cartooning is extraordinarily powerful. In a matter of a few brief reader's seconds a cartoonist can drive home a point that would take 700 words for a political columnist - and the cartoonist doesn't have to have anywhere near the intellectual consistency required of the columnist.

In my view, this is a huge responsibility for the cartoonist. Since the medium almost begs cartoonist to make stereotype part of their stock and trade, I think they have to be very careful to avoid descending into putting forth images that trade off the most convenient examples.

And that is where I think Ohman has gotten intellectually lazy. It seens his cartoons have for the last few years so regularly just made the most obvious sterotypical points: "Bush is dumb," or "Republicans are racist," or "Schools don't have enough money."

It has gotten tiresome, and it is too bad, because I remember many times truly enjoying Ohman cartoons that I completely disagreed with but which I thought were brilliantly done. On more than one occasion I wrote him to tell him just that.

I'm hoping that he can get back to his former self. The world is a much more interesting place with Jack Ohman on the top of his game. He's a truly talented guy.

Honestly, we are lucky to have a cartoonist as talented as Jack Ohman working out of our local paper. I hope he can snap out of whatever mid-career slump he's found himself in, and recapture his rapier-like wit (even if it is mostly aimed at people on my side of the political arena.)

13 comments:

Charlie said...

"Lucky" to have Jack Ohman???

That kind of luck will keep me away from playing the Oregon Lottery or boarding any flights to Nevada.

If you want him to return back to his once fine liberal mediocrity as a cartoonist so be it. I'd just as soon he offer his services to the SF Chronicle and let the Oregonian begin recruiting some fresh blood...errrrr ink.

Jack Bog said...

If his themes were "Unions are bad," "The schools waste our money," and "Hillary's a liar," you'd probably like him a little better.

Charlie said...

Now now Jack....I've never told anyone that the schools waste our money....just that the OEA does.

As for Hillary....she lies??? Really? I'm a bit taken back by learning that.

Jim Evans said...

A cartoonist to be well rounded should be able to pick something from his side of the political spectrum once in a while to make fun of. Frankly, I think Ohman is bitter and is having a little bit of the burn out syndrom. Ohman is like alot of other left of center folks who are mystified by what has happened on the national level (Republicans control all three branches), and it just is something he and almost every other Democrat has never seen in their life times (even in '52-'54 the Supreme Court was in Democrat hands), so "disbelief, how can this be!!" is quite prevelant in their circles. Fear and loathing is a typical result and in that emotional state it is hard to have the perspective to be a cartoonist at the top of his game.

Rob Kremer said...

Jim I think you may be right in your speculation about why Ohman has seemed so one dimensional for the last few years.

Charlie - gotta disagree with you: Ohman is a very rare talent. Yes, very often his cartoons irritate me. That is his job!

The problem is in the last couple years too often his cartoons have not irritated me at all, because they too often have just taken the easy shot.

Kinda like Dan Quayle jokes. Why get upset? Any hack can recite them.

My problem with Jack Ohman is that I see him doing Dan Quayle jokes when I know he is much, much more talented than that.

Will his cartoons be from the liberal perspective? Of course! As they should be! He is, I believe, a political liberal, after all.

rickyragg said...

I predict a Dan Quayle cartoon next week.

The well is dry, but Jack keeps dippin'.

As talented as he obviously is, he's a political cartoonist. A cartoonist (as I understand the term) uses humor. What's funny about the same joke drawn over and over again.

Ohman has become just another strident (for the reasons Jim mentioned) liberal, deluded by his desperation.

He just draws better than most of them.

In short, he's become a cartoon of himself.

Steve Schopp said...

Jim, You do have it right.

The rest of the editorial page is doing them same.

Even when they publish the number of anti-Bush letters to the editor they get.

PanchoPdx said...

Lately when he goes after conservatives, his cartoons have all the predicability and sophistication of a Polock joke.

Good political cartoons should make the target blush by revealing irony or pointing out hypocrisy.

Ohman seldom succeeds on either of these anymore.

If you are his target, your response should be to wince and say "ouch" or "touche", instead of sigh and a rolling of the eyes.

Lately, when he does succeed, it is more often one of the rare times he skewers the left. Maybe, because he is more personally attuned toward the left, he finds it necessary to work harder to make those jabs stick...?

Anonymous said...

What is up with The bOregonian's position against the Sten-Blackmer inspiration, imposed by the City Commission: tax-funded political campaigns? I'd like to see Ohman do some cartoons representing the Editors' position on that.

Charlie said...

Can't wait for his cartoon on the Supreme Court's ruling on M37.

Charlie said...

Ok.....saw Jack's cartoon today. A bulldozer ready to destroy a statue of Tom McCall.

The heavy handed land use planning in effect over the past 15 years by local planning zealots bent on their far left, wild eyed social re-engineering had ol' Tom rolling in his grave long ago.

I suspect that McCall would have voted for M37 just to restart the conversation in Oregon and get land use planning back in the hands of the citizens.

rickyragg said...

Ohman is just doing what, it suddenly seems, all the true believers are managing to do (even without our help):

marginalizing himself.

sdeter said...

I'm seeking Ohman's email address so I may thank him for his great work. I could not find it on the Oregonian site.