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Editorial cartoonist Jack Ohman scribbles, scribes and charms an audience in The Dalles. (Photo by Susan Hess.)

Never a Dull Moment When Jack’s in Town

Perhaps because it’s spring — the blossoms, the budding leaves. Or maybe I was touched by the architecture — the graceful St. Peter’s spire, the grand County Court House, the stalwart Carnegie Library turned art gallery. Or just possibly it was the complete lack of overdressed, overly pretentious, art snobs that usually haunt my usual haunts. Whatever the cause, I think I’m in love — with The Dalles.

The Dalles is a plain-speaking sort of place and the perfect venue to host Jack Ohman, a straight-shooting political cartoonist. In the cozy comfort of the “Fireplace Room” in The Dalles Civic Auditorium Wednesday night, Ohman tickled the audience with impromptu caricatures, waxed philosophic on topics such as immigration and Watergate, and bantered cheerfully with a 96-year-old gentleman who gave as good as he got.

While still in college, Ohman became the youngest cartoonist ever to be nationally syndicated. He now serves as editorial cartoonist for The Oregonian and is one of the most widely syndicated political cartoonists in the U.S. His cartoons appear in papers like the New York Times and the Washington Post, and magazines like Newsweek and National Review. Ohman’s won the national Mark of Excellence Award from the Society of Professional Journalists and a heavy batch of other awards for his work.

In addition to his political cartoons, Ohman also created the syndicated comic strip “Mixed Media,” now drawn and written by Scott Willis. Ohman knows how to write, too: He’s the author of eight books: Back To The ’80s, Drawing Conclusions, Fear of Fly Fishing, Fishing Bass-Ackwards, Why Johnny Can’t Putt, Do I Have To Draw You A Picture?, Get The Net!, and Media Mania.

Ohman is, first and foremost, a funny guy. As he sketched a member of the audience on the overheard projector Wednesday, he said that “no matter what happens politically I can always find employment doing caricatures at the Portland Saturday Market.” When asked whether he ever received negative comments to his cartoons from readers he answered sarcastically that “email has never really been a friend to me. I often start the day with 10 or more love letters in my inbox.”

And when asked if he thought his art made a difference in politics he had this to say: “Sometimes I go to bed at night feeling that I really made a statement to a politician, that I really must have got my point across this time. Only to come into the office in the morning, check my voicemail, and hear some aid saying ‘The governor loved yesterday’s cartoon and was wondering if he could have the original for the office.’ Those are the days I call it quits.”

But after twenty-three years at the Oregonian Ohman still hasn’t quit. And he is more than just a good time. When asked to comment on the 12 Danish cartoonists now in safehouses because of their depictions of the Muslim’s prophet, Ohman lead the audience calmly through a freedom of speech vs. what is a “respectful, moral treatment of any culture’s belief system.” Briefly: Ohman insisted that there is a vast difference between what one has the right to say and what one should say.

Ohman was in The Dalles as the second featured speaker in the 2006 Spring Humanities Series presented by Columbia Gorge Community College (CGCC) and Gorge Literacy. Susan Lewis, the Adult Literacy Coordinator at CGCC, is the driving force behind this series and she and her cohorts deserve a standing ovation. So far, Lewis is batting a thousand in her choice of speakers. Both Ohman and last week’s speaker, Hampton Rodriguez, go beyond art or politics, they reach out and encourage the audience to foster fresh ideas, reach new vistas.

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