Jim Lange dies at 82

Oklahoman Modified: April 17, 2009 at 6:26 pm •  Published: April 17, 2009
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Jim Lange, who for 58 years contributed unforgettable images to the editorial page of The Oklahoman, died late Thursday.

He was 82 and had been in failing health in recent weeks.

“To readers, Jim Lange and his character, John Q. Public, were the voice of The Oklahoman,” said Christy Everest, chairman and chief executive of The Oklahoma Publishing Co., which publishes The Oklahoman. “Many turned to the opinion page first to see how John Q. commented on the issue of the day. To me, Jim was a close, family friend, someone I've known my entire life. Three generations of the Gaylord family were privileged to work with him and call him their friend. We are saddened by the loss.”

Lange retired in October, after a prodigious career as an editorial cartoonist for the daily newspaper in his adopted hometown. From 1950, when he joined The Oklahoman at the age of 24, until recent years, Lange produced seven cartoons a week. At retirement, he was still drawing five a week. No one, not even Lange, knew exactly how many cartoons he had published over his career, but it probably exceeded 19,000.

He was the only employee in the history of The Oklahoma Publishing Co. who worked closely with the three generations of the Gaylord family, who have owned The Oklahoman since 1903.Lange's tenure was the longest of any newsroom employee in the history of the newspaper, which has been published continuously since 1894.

James Jacob Lange was born Aug. 15, 1926, in Winnebago. Minn., and spent most of his early years in Dubuque, Iowa. Following a stint in the U.S. Air Force during World War II, he spent his GI Bill funds at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. He had always wanted to be an artist, he said. When he was a child, his parents kept him quiet in church with a pencil and paper.

He worked in a series of temporary, adventurous jobs until he met the woman he wanted to marry. One of Lange's favorite stories was how his wife, the former Helen Johnstone, prompted him to come to Oklahoma. She refused to marry him, he said, until he had a real job.

So he began researching newspapers that had no full-time political cartoonists. Not knowing the protocol, he wrote to E.K. Gaylord, the editor and publisher. Gaylord personally negotiated the terms of Lange's employment, which began Oct. 1, 1950.

His first cartoon featured then Gov. Roy Turner. Before long the trademarks of Lange's work began to appear, such as oil wells scattered in the background that identified scenes as Oklahoma. His most notable character was John Q. Public, Lange's cartoon sidekick who represented the common citizen trying to understand the political maneuvers of the powerful.

How he worked

Throughout his career, Lange's most advanced technology was a black felt- tip pen and poster board. Occasionally he would whip out a pen and draft an idea on a handy napkin.

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