Lange, 82, retired in October after a prodigious career 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.
Lange's tenure was the longest of any newsroom employee in the history of the newspaper, which has been published continuously since 1894. He was the only employee in the history of The Oklahoma Publishing Co. to work closely with the three generations of the Gaylord family, who have owned The Oklahoman since 1903.
Besides his wife Helen, survivors include two sons, Jim and Robert, both of Oklahoma City; a daughter, Nancy, of Columbia, Tenn.; and 11 grandchildren.
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.
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.
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 one of the founding members of the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists and served a term as its president from 1983-1984. His work was frequently included in the annual publication, Best Editorial Cartoons of the Year, and a collection of his best work was published by The Oklahoman in the 1990s.
Lange punctured the posturings of many famous people; he insulted, scolded or ridiculed them when he thought it necessary. 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.
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.
He received one of the first AAEC Ink Bottle Awards in 1983 and was inducted into the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame in 1993. Lange was also a director or officer of several civic and professional organizations, ranging from the Oklahoma City Zoological Society to the Oklahoma City Gridiron Foundation.
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.
Steve Artley, writing on the AAEC-L, recalled: “Jim hosted the first AAEC convention I attended in the mid 1980's and made it among the most memorable. It was the most meat I'd ever eaten in any given four day period. Over the years spending time with Jim and Helen was always a highlight, regardless of the setting. He will be truly missed.”
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.
“Jim had a very long, successful life and career doing what he loved to do in a place where he loved to do it,” said cartoonist Wiley Miller. “You can't ask for more than that.”