Clever perception

Politics always held a fascination for Jack Ohman (’99), but the Pulitzer-prize winning political cartoonist’s early ambitions were set on the political stage rather than the page. “Watergate started when I was 11 years old and that era was very vivid,” Ohman remembers. “I thought I’d go to law school, become a political staffer, and eventually run for office.”

As a youth, Ohman obtained several political internships in his home state of Minnesota, but he became disillusioned. “The political internships were sucking my social life dry and I realized my best case scenario in politics was that I might get elected,” he says. Meanwhile, Ohman had created political cartoons for his high school paper and was encouraged to apply for a job as a political cartoonist at the University of Minnesota’s student newspaper, the Minnesota Daily. He got the position when he was only 17. “The cartoonist job was really fun, I knew I could make a lot of money, and I could even win a Pulitzer Prize.”

Personal victories

Ohman then worked for The Columbus Dispatch and the Detroit Free Press. When he was 19, he made history as the youngest ever nationally syndicated cartoonist. By age 20, Ohman was the second-most-read cartoonist in the country.

In 1983, Ohman took a job at The Oregonian. He had never finished college in Minnesota and was self-conscious about not having a degree, so he enrolled at PSU and received his honors degree in U.S. history. “I had two kids and a full-time job when I went back to college – it was hard as hell,” Ohman says. “But college makes you organize your thoughts, and it strung a lot of things together for me.”

Ohman’s favorite PSU memories are of his time as the College Bowl Team Captain from 2000 to 2001, when their team ranked third in the regional semi-finals. Later, Ohman served on PSU’s Alumni Association’s Board of Directors.

Winning process 

After nearly 20 years at the Oregonian, Ohman joined the staff at California’s Sacramento Bee in 2012. In addition to drawing political cartoons, he writes editorials, and he’s authored 10 books – mostly about his hobbies. He currently has six book ideas percolating.

Political cartoons are popular for several reasons, Ohman says. “Cartoons are satisfying because they combine a lot of different fun elements. Readers like the art, the dialog and the surprise of cartoons.”

Ohman finds inspiration by reading Politico, Twitter, Facebook and National Public Radio stories first thing in the morning. More often than not, he has an idea of what he’ll draw before he’s reached the office. His work paid off in 2016 when Ohman won the Pulitzer Prize for “cartoons that convey wry, rueful perspectives through sophisticated style that combines bold line work with subtle colors and textures.” Surprisingly, his first reaction to the news was relief. “I had entered to win the Pulitzer for more than 30 years,” he explains. “I had already won virtually every other major award in journalism, and there was so much pressure on this. Finally winning was such a relief.”