Doug Marlette, a Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist, educator and author, died on July 10 in a car accident. He was 57.
Born in North Carolina, Marlette became interested in cartooning when he was in the first grade. Consumed by the need to create, he ignored the advice of a counselor who once warned him that artists “were a dime a dozen,” and studied art and philosophy at Florida State University. Marlette launched his artistic career in 1972 drawing editorial cartoons for The Charlotte Observer. He later worked for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Newsday, the Tallahassee Democrat and the Tulsa World.
Over the course of the next 35 years, Marlette created enough cartoons to fill half a dozen books. He also won the National Headliners Award for Consistently Outstanding Editorial Cartoons three times, the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Award for editorial cartooning twice and the First Prize in the John Fischetti Memorial Cartoon Competition twice. The only cartoonist ever awarded a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University, Marlette even won the Pulitzer Prize in 1988 for his work at the Observer and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Not everyone appreciated his perspective however. In 2002, Marlette drew a cartoon that depicted an Arab driving a rental truck with a nuclear weapon on board. The caption read: “What Would Muhammad Drive?” Soon after the cartoon’s publication, Marlette received more than 20,000 e-mails, including numerous death threats, and was denounced on the front page of the Saudi Arab News by the secretary general of the Muslim World League.
In 1981, Marlette launched Kudzu, a comic strip featuring a teen who dreams of leaving his tiny hometown to become a writer. Syndicated worldwide in hundreds of newspapers, Kudzu strips were also collected into seven volumes. The final strip will be published on Aug. 26.
When he wasn’t creating political and/or humorous cartoons, Marlette penned an ethics column for Esquire and contributed to The New Republic, The Nation, Men’s Journal, The Paris Review, the Columbia Journalism Review and He also co-wrote the screenplay, ‘Ex,’ with Pat Conroy, the bestselling author of “The Prince of Tides.” In 2001, Marlette delved into the fiction realm with the publication of “The Bridge.” The novel was voted Best Book of the Year for Fiction by the Southeast Booksellers Association, and one of the best books of the last five years by BookSense, the American Booksellers Association. His second novel, “Magic Time,” was published in 2006.
Most recently, Marlette taught at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and at the University of Oklahoma’s College of Journalism and Mass Communication. He was inducted into the UNC Journalism Hall of Fame in 2002.
Marlette was riding in the passenger seat of a car driven by John Davenport, a Mississippi high school theater director, when it skidded across a rain-slicked road and smashed into a tree. The cartoonist was visiting Mississippi to help a group of students produce a musical based on his “Kudzu” comic strip. Davenport was not seriously injured in the accident.
On July 12, N.C. Governor Michael F. Easley selected Marlette to posthumously receive the honor of membership to the North Carolina Order of the Long Leaf Pine, which is the highest civilian honor bestowed by the head of that state.
“I always thought it was going to be Doug giving the eulogy at my funeral,” Conroy said at Marlette’s funeral service. “He used to make up eulogies about me. The obituary would start: ‘An unknown writer died on Fripp Island…'”
View Marlette’s Pulitzer Prize-Winning Cartoons
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