Sunday, July 15, 2007

Doug Marlette, You will be missed!

It feels like I’ve lost another friend. I just learned that cartoonist, novelist and fellow North Carolinian Doug Marlette died Tuesday. He was in an automobile accident in Oxford, Mississippi. As a member of the Southern diaspora, I looked to Marlette to keep me up with what’s going on in my homeland. His comic strip Kudzu,[1] which is set in the town of Bypass,[2] featured a host of lovable characters. Although I never met him, I appreciated his work. When things are serious, it’s good to be able to laugh and Marlette gave me many belly-churning chuckles.

My favorite Kudzu character was the Reverend Will B. Dunn (if you don’t get the joke in the name, trying saying it real fast). Dunn looks like the Quaker Oats man. In 1988, when Pat Robertson was running for the Presidency, Preacher Dunn also decided to run. When Robertson recalled his direct link to God which spared Virginia Beach from a direct strike by a hurricane, Preacher Dunn held a press conference to tell about how his prayers saved Bypass for a tornado. One of the reporters asked Dunn about a neighboring town that was totally destroyed when the tornado, upon his prayers, took a 90 degree turn. Not missing a beat, Dunn proclaimed, ‘Let that be a lesson to the Russians.” Dunn also had a newspaper column where he answered the questions of readers. When one wrote asking what eternity would be like, he responded, “Like the NBA tournament, only shorter.” Marlette also poked fun at church softball leagues, contemporary and politically correct worship, marriage counseling, secular humanism, among other things. Nothing was safe from the point of his pen.

A few years before the Danish cartoon scandal, Marlette had his own spat with Muslims. When some evangelical Christians began to be concerned about our wasting resources and asking the question, “What would Jesus Drive?” Marlette, poking fun at both the Christian campaign and terrorists, asked the question “What would Mohammed drive?” His strip showed a Ryder truck with a bomb sticking out the back. It didn’t get as much attention as the Danish strips, but there were death threats made against Marlette. Like a good satirist, he offended conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats, fundamentalists and atheists.

A couple of years ago, I reviewed Marlette’s first novel, The Bridge, which dealt with labor troubles in the North Carolina textile industry back in the 20s and 30s. Click here for my review, it would be a good book for someone to use in the Southern Summer Reading Challenge. Definitions supplied for those who might need some help...

[1] Kudzu: a Chinese weed that has taken off across the south after being introduced to curb erosion on railroad embankments.

[2] Bypass: What happens when a highway is ran around town instead of going through town. Drivers no longer get to circle around the monument to the fallen Confederate soldiers; instead they are treated to all the icons of fast food.


  1. Very nice Sage, we used Kudzu in our church newsletters, being Methodist the Baptist/Episcopalian was a sure laugh. He will be missed.

  2. As you know, he was an icon in these parts, and wil be sorely missed. I can obly hope that he had many days worth of Kudzu already finished.

  3. Kudzu sadly left our funny pages probably a decade ago but I still remember Will B. Dunn fondly. He was way to young to go but I'm sure he has no regrets.

  4. Anyone that pokes fun at liberals and conservatives, Pope and sinner is a hero to me.

  5. Was this the cartoonist that was coming back home from a funeral? I remember reading something but all the online articles I read get jumbled sometimes.

  6. maggie, Was Doug Methodist? His funeral was in a Methodist Church and he never gave them the hard times that he dished out at the Baptist and Episcopalians

    Kenju, yeah, I also know his book "The Bridge" didn't go over well there, it was a little like airing dirty laundry in public

    Ed, I haven't been where he has been a regular in the paper in years--at one time, he was carried by the Pittsburgh papers

    Pat, there is something good about being an equal opportunity offender

  7. Mistress, from what I read, he was going to meet with a school group that was doing a play based on his comic strip

  8. Again you and Martin have something in common. He was crushed by the news. Marlette was in fact the one that got Pat Conroy to autograph the Prince of Tides book for Martin for me that I am reading now.

    People hate kudzu here but I think it looks kinda nice along the highways.

  9. I'll have to find some of his comic strips to read - it's clear this fella had a big impact on all the southern folk . . .

  10. You know, Sage, I'm not sure, but that would be a fair guess. How would a librarian find the answer? Hum, maybe I should do some field work.

  11. Too bad he is no more.


    Bypass(es) are all over India!

  12. Haha. Love the NBA tournament line. And your definition of bypass.

  13. Deana, from what I heard, Pat Conroy spoke at his funeral

    Diane, I have one of his books on a coffee table in my office!

    Maggie, you can report back in when you find out...

    Gautami, India has "by-passes" Globalization is going to be the doom for us all... Do you have McDonalds and KFC's lined up around your bypasses too?

    Bone, Marlette was such a funny guy, glad you also laughed at my joke!

  14. I was very sad to hear of Marlette's death too. Your post had me remembering lots of funny little Kudzu vignettes.

    Is "Bypass" strictly a Southern thing, btw? Our 123 Bypass is Seneca is a crucial thing to understand if you're going to get anywhere in our county, lol.