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.” Funeral services have been set for 2 p.m. Tuesday, at Chapel Hill United Methodist Church, 2717 W Hefner Road. 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 workedThroughout 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. Each morning, he checked newspaper and broadcast reports, so that he arrived at his office with several ideas for the day’s cartoon. He made rough sketches of a half-dozen or so, then submitted them to the publisher or the editorial page editor. He completed the one selected. He once said in an interview that the newspaper’s executives rarely told him what to draw; his political philosophy was close enough to theirs that he knew what they wanted. Lange was a co-founder of the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists and served a term as national president during the 1980s. His work was frequently included in the annual publication, Best Editorial Cartoons of the Year. A collection of his best work was published by The Oklahoman in the 1990s. His professional peers honored him with awards. The causes and concerns he supported in his drawings offered frequent gratitude. He was inducted into the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame in 1993. He was a director or officer of several civic and professional organizations, ranging from the Oklahoma City Zoological Society to the Oklahoma City Gridiron Foundation. However, politicians and elected officials who appeared in his drawings were not always pleased with him. In a 2000 interview, on his 50th anniversary on the job, Lange said that the worst thing someone in his line of work could do to a politician, except ignore him completely, was to laugh at him. His images helped put public issues in perspective, or helped readers express emotions about events that affected them. Lange punctured the posturings of many famous people; he insulted, scolded or ridiculed them when he thought it necessary. He also praised them when he deemed it appropriate. He didn’t dislike anybody, he said once; he just didn’t agree with some. Often, his subjects called as soon as their morning papers were delivered to request the original sketches, no matter how insulting they were. His work hangs in many government offices, and the morning’s cartoon was often the topic of conversation across Oklahoma. Lange was a natural entertainer and storyteller. With drawing pad and pen for props, he performed for banquets, club meetings, conventions and fairs across the state. When he told jokes, he laughed more heartily and with more delight than his audience. In the 2000 interview, Lange responded to a question about why he hadn’t retired when the appropriate age arrived. He said his job was just too good to leave. Besides his wife, Helen, survivors include two sons, Jim and Robert, both of Oklahoma City; a daughter, Nancy, of Columbia, Tenn.; and 11 grandchildren.
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WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
Remembering Jim LangeDavid Boren, president of the University of Oklahoma "Jim Lange was not only one of the greatest political cartoonists Oklahoma ever produced, he was one of the most outstanding cartoonists in the history of American journalism. Jim had the remarkable ability to produce cartoons that were fully understood by the public and expressed the feelings of rank and file Americans. He truly loved this state and our country, and those patriotic feelings were constantly communicated through his work. His life’s work was a gift to all of us, and I will personally miss his friendship and wonderful sense of humor.” Ed Kelley, editor of The Oklahoman "Lots of Oklahomans for many years turned to Jim Lange for his take on the news of the day — whether it be the passing of a president, a war or just simply a change in the weather. His body of work, for almost six decades, made him one of a kind, the likes of which we’ll never see again in our state.”