Doug Marlette caught flak for his digs at religious institutions.
Doug Marlette caught flak for his digs at religious institutions.
Tulsa World Cartoons

The Cartoonist As Tenacious As Kudzu

By Linton Weeks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 11, 2007

And then there was the time Doug Marlette joined a couple of friends on a porch in Beaufort, N.C., to watch wild ponies in a distant field.

"Doug sat there for about a minute," recalls Bland Simpson. "It was all Doug could do to sit still. He was getting more and more agitated. Finally, he jumped up and said: 'This is just too peaceful! There is nothing here for my free-ranging paranoia and hostility to light on.' "

He headed downtown to buy a newspaper.

Simpson laughs when he tells that story about his friend Marlette, who died in a car crash in Mississippi yesterday at 57. "It just wasn't a target-rich environment for Doug."

A Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist, Marlette was also a comic strip writer, novelist, librettist -- and a Southerner through and through.

Not the calm, genteel, conflict-averse kind of Southerner, mind you. He was a prickly pear, a stubborn and restless rebel. With countless causes.

"Since I heard the news, I have been thinking about all the people he [ticked] off," says John Shelton Reed, who helped form the Center for the Study of the American South at the University of North Carolina and was a longtime Marlette friend. Off the top of his head, Reed lists the targets of Marlette's lampoons: Jim Bakker, Catholics, Muslims. "I can't think of a religious group he didn't offend. He even did a cartoon that upset the Episcopalians, and you know how hard it is to upset Episcopalians."

Marlette went after politicians "across the board," Reed says. One time, Marlette was giving a slide show of his Bill Clinton cartoons at a Renaissance Weekend at Hilton Head Island when Hillary Clinton walked in. She was not too happy, Reed says.

"He did awful things in his cartoons with Jesse Helms," Reed says. "But Helms's office called up Doug and asked him for copies to frame. He was very disappointed."

Fearless, Reed says, Marlette "didn't care who he annoyed. If he had a point to make, he made it."

Reed and other friends recall Marlette's good humor and generosity.

Curtis Wilkie, who covered the South for the Boston Globe and now teaches in Oxford, Miss., remembers how Marlette encouraged Wilkie's son, who was an editorial cartoonist at Boston College. "He was a very thoughtful guy," Wilkie says, "always thinking of other people."

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