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Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist

Jack Ohman has spent a generation skewering politicians, poking fun at Portland’s liberal quirks and championing artistic freedom as an editorial cartoonist. In April, the Portland State Honors College graduate learned he had won the nation’s highest award for journalism, the Pulitzer Prize.

“I’m still in shock,” says Ohman, who was toasted with champagne by his colleagues at the Sacramento Bee, where he has worked since 2013. “You’re competing with some very talented people. It’s a surreal experience.”

Before moving to California, Ohman spent most of his career at The Oregonian, drawing stylized caricatures of everyone from Ronald Reagan and Gov. John Kitzhaber to bearded craft beer drinkers and the celebrated, much-traveled Oregon wolf known as OR-7.

His prize-winning cartoons range from the light-hearted (California Gov. Jerry Brown’s dog running for office) to the penetrating (New York’s twin towers juxtaposed with two Syrian refugees, both dated Sept. 11). In awarding the prize, Pulitzer judges credited Ohman for his “wry, rueful perspectives” and sophisticated style.

Ohman, 55, honed his craft early, drawing cartoons in high school, then getting hired by the student newspaper at the University of Minnesota. At 19, he became the youngest cartoonist ever to be syndicated nationally, and left college early for job offers from the Detroit Free Press, then the Columbus Dispatch and later The Oregonian.

Despite the rapid career rise, Ohman says he regretted not finishing his degree. In 1992, he enrolled in PSU’s honors program to study history. Working full-time and raising a family meant taking classes early in the morning and studying late at night. It took years, and a senior thesis on the 1968 Oregon primary election, to make it to graduation in 1999.

It was all worth it, says Ohman, whose two sons are on track to graduate from PSU this spring and next year.

“My professors held me to an intellectual standard that I found enormously useful later in my career,” he says. “They were very exacting mentors.”

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