A new book celebrates the life and work of Jim Lange, the political cartoonist who worked for The Oklahoman for about 58 years.
“John Q: The Life and Times of Jim Lange” is a self-published book by the cartoonist's son, Robert Lange, the youngest of four children born to Jim and Helen Lange.
“My dad passed away about four years ago,” the author said. “I'd thought to myself over the years that I should do a book about him someday. Then a friend suggested the same thing. I said, ‘You're right. He needs to be remembered.'”
The book's title refers to John Q. Public, a round-headed, fedora-wearing cartoon character with big eyes and prominent ears. The character appeared in much of Jim Lange's work.
“John Q. Public was every man, the regular guy who was the brunt of political shenanigans or crazy laws or just the inability of politicians to get anything done,” John Greiner, retired capitol reporter for The Oklahoman, wrote in the book's foreword.
Surprisingly, John Q. wasn't Jim Lange's original creation — at least not entirely.
After World War II, Jim Lange, originally from Minnesota, attended the Chicago Academy of Fine Art on the G.I. Bill. He studied under the cartoonists at the Chicago Tribune, including Joseph Parrish, Carey Orr, Ed Holland and Vaughn Shoemaker.
“The style he drew is very much like the style used at the … Tribune,” Robert Lange said. “They used a John Q. Public character and were very hard-hitting. … I asked Dad one time how you develop your own style. He said it comes with time. If you find somebody whose work you like, copy it and make it your own, and someday people will think it was developed by you.”
Spotlight on politics
For someone whose work was viewed by tens of thousands of people each day, Jim Lange was unassuming and private, his son said. He remained constantly positive, always looking for the best in people, and he was politically savvy. He had to be to draw seven cartoons a week year after year, calling politicians to task and defining, in single images, critical dilemmas facing Oklahoma and the nation.
“For over 30 years while I was in public office, I was often a subject for cartoons created by Jim Lange,” University of Oklahoma President David Boren said in the book. “Even when he was skewering me with cartoonist's harpoon he caused me to laugh at myself. He was always fair and never mean.
“In my opinion Jim was the best cartoonist in the entire country year after year. His cartoons always conveyed the heart of an issue with a clarity that connected with every reader. He could capture a complex issue and make it understandable to the average person. No one used humor more effectively.”
He enjoyed giving “chalk talks” — a term Robert Lange uses to describe his father's speaking engagements. As he spoke, he'd draw a line or two on a sheet of drawing paper, adding to it occasionally. By the time he fell silent, those lines would have transformed into a recognizable political figure.
“He liked the limelight,” his son said, “but once it was over with, he just smoked a cigarette and turned the light off.”
Book is first step
The 108-page book is heavy on images and light on text; some pages contain a single sentence.
The book includes several of the thousands of cartoons Jim Lange drew in his career. No one is sure how many he drew, but estimates range between 19,000 and 21,000.
It also includes family photographs (many of which did not reproduce well) and quotes from politicians and friends.
The book is available through Amazon.com and at some area bookstores.
Robert Lange, himself a cartoonist and caricature artist, said “John Q” is only the first step in a journey that may include a second book. Ultimately, he wants to see his father enshrined in the Oklahoma Hall of Fame.
“Dad talked to the trash guy just the same as he would talk to a millionaire,” Robert Lange said. “He was just a common man.”
His work was anything but common. It speaks for itself.