Laughing at Ourselves elevated by Doug Marlette

Kudzu comic strip creator and Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist Doug Marlette is dead. I will miss his quirky humor and what seemed to me an ability to laugh at himself and his culture.

When I first heard of Doug Marlette, he was an editorial cartoonist with The Charlotte Observer. He accepted an invitation to speak to high school students and personally demonstrated the craft of cartooning to those of us interested enough to meet him personally after his talk. For me, he drew a caricature of then-presidential candidate Jimmy Carter and signed his name on a piece of notebook paper. The drawing is framed today, the standard blue lines of ruled paper now faded but the black marker he used to draw still sharp. (photo of the cartoon by me)

A native North Carolinian (like me), he embraced southern (USA) and American life while parodying it in his Kudzu strip. I especially enjoyed reading about Reverend Will B. Dunn and his exasperating dealings with members of his congregation and community (e.g., Ida Mae Wombat, who was offended by the concept of sin and preferred that Rev. Dunn call church members “People of Foibles”).

Saddened by the news of his death by car accident, I’ve spend a bit of time reading brief accounts of his life and death, and came across his website. There I found a link to one of his articles, “I Was a Tool of Satan: An Equal-Opportunity Offender Maps the Dark Turn of Intolerance” that is well worth the few minutes it will take to read. (Excerpt: "Those who rise up against the expression of ideas are strikingly similar. No one is less tolerant than those demanding tolerance. Despite differences of culture and creed, they all seem to share the notion that there is only one way of looking at things, their way.") Although Mr. Marlette writes mostly about taking a stand and valiantly defending his perspective and freedom of speech in this article, the lessons that he taught me (or rather reinforced for me) are 1) don't take myself so seriously and 2) if I can view ideas through a cultural lens, I can sort through what is true and valid and toss out what is considered normal by cultural standards.

According to news reports, Mr. Marlette died when the truck in which he was a passenger hydroplaned and hit a tree. He was in Mississippi helping high school students put on a play called Kudzu, A Southern Musical.

Just in case you're interested, here's a photo of kudzu (the plant)


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