July 13, 2007

This recent Doug Marlette cartoon saluted the late journalist David Halberstam.

Cartoonist Marlette Remembered for ‘Funny, Biting’ Work

“Cartoons are windows into the human condition,” cartoonist Doug Marlette said after he joined the Tulsa World last year.

Using his pen to open windows came naturally to Marlette, 57, one of the nation’s most prolific cartoonists. The North Carolina native died July 10 in an automobile accident in Mississippi. He was en route to Oxford, Miss., to attend a rehearsal of the musical adaptation of his syndicated comic strip, “Kudzu.”

Marlette’s funny, biting work won him numerous honors, including the Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning. For more than three decades, his cartoons appeared in the nation’s top newspapers and newsmagazines. He was a frequent guest on network television and radio shows.

Strong opinions and an outsized sense of humor were his hallmarks. His work sparked hate mail, harassment and even death threats.

He credited his grandmother, who he said was “bayoneted by a guardsman during a mill strike in the Carolinas,” for his willingness to tackle controversial subjects. Marlette’s first novel, The Bridge, included fictionalized accounts of the anti-labor brutality that his grandmother and others faced. He thinly disguised some real-life characters, causing some hard feelings in North Carolina, where he lived.

Marlette’s ease in producing daily cartoons on deadline was amazing to outsiders. He brimmed with so much passion, ideas, and outrage that his output seemed commonplace to him.

As Marlette wrote, “Summing up complex issues in simple drawings requires curiosity, an appetite for news, a bountiful gift for free association and the killer instinct of an assassin.” His definition of greatness in cartoonists was simple: “Can you remember their cartoons? Do they get under your skin?”

In 1997, Marlette participated in a Newseum program focusing on how editorial cartoonists covered the Watergate scandal. When the new Newseum opens in Washington, visitors will be able to explore the history and influence of editorial cartooning through a series of changing displays featuring the best editorial cartoons of the past and present.

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