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, which is set in the town of Bypass, 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...
 Kudzu: a Chinese weed that has taken off across the south after being introduced to curb erosion on railroad embankments.
 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.