Cartoonist Jack Ohman Speaks Out on the Evolution and Future of Cartooning

As Association of American Editorial Cartoonists president and veteran cartoonist of the Sacramento Bee Jack Ohman prepares to hand over the reins of his presidency to fellow cartoonist Adam Zyglis, he took a moment to talk with the Washington Post about the role of cartoonists in the modern world, the evolution of the craft, and to impart some lasting advice on artists new and old.

The past year has held a series of trials for cartoonists. From the attack on French satire magazine Charlie Hebdo to the rise in challenges faced by editorial cartoonists in newspapers, artists around the world are not only struggling to produce their work, but it is becoming more and more difficult for them to protect themselves and their right to free speech.

“Good cartoonists are popular features, and as more and more newspapers are being cut, the owners often go to the cartoonist position before they cut another position,” notes Ohman in his recent interview with Michael Cavna of the Washington Post. “The only way we can save ourselves is to do intellectually honest work that says something fresh; that’s the strongest argument we can make for ourselves.”

Cartoonists are not alone in this struggle, though, Ohman points out. In order to help domestic artists in all mediums with these challenges, Ohman talks about the important work that he did during his term as president of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists (AAEC) and the important work the organization will continue doing as long as there are cartoonists’ rights to protect. Along with providing support, the organization also has a mission to educate. One aspect of that education is the annual convention held in Columbus, Ohio, where cartoonists and other artists can converge to talk about their trade, hold panels, and recognize the courageous and notable cartoonists who are working towards everyone’s right to free expression. The convention is an “art-driven program… highlighting people who were not newspaper cartoonists exactly, but people who do what we do in a broader sense.”

This year Atena Farghadani, an Iranian cartoonist who is currently serving a nearly 13-year prison sentence for caricaturing politicians as animals, was awarded the CRNI Courage Award at the AAEC convention — an act that demonstrates the impact violations of free speech are having on the global community. This year’s conference took place in a very different world in light of the Charlie Hebdo attacks. “[W]e had bomb-sniffing dogs, a SWAT team, uniformed sheriffs and police, as well as undercover police — the entire time we were there. So it’s a new world,” says Ohman.

According to Ohman, the future of the AAEC is to find more ways to recognize international cartoonists like Atena Farghadani and the important work that they are doing and bring the organization to a more global stage. “We’re going to expand our membership base to include international cartoonists as associate members, assuming the membership approves. We are going to create several awards to honor people who make a difference in our profession.”

Ohman recognizes that the world of cartoonists is not only changing but becoming something that to which more people are paying more attention. “The Charlie Hebdo massacre colored everything,” recalls Ohman. “It was profoundly shocking, and everyone in political cartooning was called upon to speak up about what we do and why it’s important.”

Read the full interview with Jack Ohman here.

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Contributing Editor Caitlin McCabe is an independent comics scholar who loves a good pre-code horror comic and the opportunity to spread her knowledge of the industry to those looking for a great story!