Week 28 – Anniversaries
Two anniversaries to observe this week, and I’m going to start with the sadder and more personal one, if you’ll indulge me.
Today marks ten years since we lost Doug Marlette. Mr. Marlette was a Pulitzer-winning cartoonist known to us Southerners for his devastating wit, his lengthy feuds with Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker and former North Carolina senator Jesse Helms, and his comic strip Kudzu. He was also my friend and mentor figure.
When I was in eighth grade, I had a school assignment to interview someone who worked in the job I wanted to have as an adult. I wanted to be a cartoonist at the time, so I sent off letters to all my favorites: Jim Davis, Charles Schulz, Bill Watterson, Gary Larson, Bill Amend, everyone I could think of. None of them responded. I was at the point of despair when I learned that there was a nationally-syndicated cartoonist right there in North Carolina, the next town over from mine, in fact. Surely, I thought, there was no way that someone of that caliber would give me the time of day, but since I was out of options, I decided to give it a shot. I was incredibly nervous when I called his number, but he spoke to me like an old friend. He not only agreed to do the interview, but he invited me to his home out in Hillsboro. He was patient and friendly with the stammering, star-struck kid who showed up at his door, and he not only gave me all the time I needed for my assignment, but he looked at all the drawings I brought to show him, he gave me a pile of autographed books, he showed me his Pulitzer and his wall of signed cartoons from famous figures, and he even invited me upstairs to his office to see where he worked. I’ll never forget the first sight of that great big inkstained desk, or my shock when he presented me with an authentic signed original Kudzu cartoon, the kind that were usually given to celebrities, politicians, and Presidents. I had that cartoon framed, and it’s still in my room today.
Our association could have ended there, but over the next few years, I saw and spoke with Mr. Marlette many more times. I attended the lectures that he gave on the UNC campus, and no matter who was there he always recognized me and made time to ask how I was doing. He always spoke to me when I called him on the phone, even if he was busy. And at one of those lectures, the audience was called to sit down while he was still looking over my sketchbook. During the long and boring introduction from the campus reprepsentative that followed, I looked over to my side where Mr. Marlette sat in the front row… and saw the Pulitzer-winning cartoonist nearly in tears laughing over one of my cartoons, not paying attention to the rep’s intro speech at all.
I always hoped that one day I could present him with a signed copy of my own first book, as thanks for all the time he gave me, but ten years ago today, my mentor and friend died in a car accident in Mississippi. He was mourned by dozens upon dozens of his fellow cartoonists, by his friends and family, and especially by me. I will forever regret not being able to return the favor.
Mr. Marlette was more than just a cartoonist. He was a man who refused to bow down and shut up, who made a career out of savaging the famous and powerful and always stuck by his guns when they struck back at him. He was an activist, a scholar, and a philosopher. He taught me more than he will ever know, and I was blessed to be treated as his friend. I wrote the following poem in his honor.
There is a quiet field of green
Where my teacher rests.
Within the red clay, lost in peaceful sleep
With withered wreaths and flowers above his head, left by friends and family.
I arrive there long after they’ve gone, bearing no gift but what I can remember.
There is a distant field of green
Where my teacher rests.
Where my thoughts run deep with sadness
In a memory from long ago I hear his laugh
And see the welcome smile upon his face
As he greets a stranger like an old friend.
There is a peaceful field of green
Where my teacher rests.
And as I kneel upon the dry grass
Waiting for the tears to come
Instead, I find myself smiling.
Because somewhere, far away, my teacher laughs
And once again touches pen to paper.
In loving memory of Douglas Nigel Marlette
1949 – 2007
“The unexamined life is not worth living.” – Socrates
The happier occasion this week is the 20th anniversary of the release of my all-time favorite movie, Princess Mononoke. I’ll have more words and a tribute up on Wednesday.
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