Cartoonist Jumps Ship in Atlanta

By HRW

Vol. 11, No. 2, 1989, p. 6

Doug Marlette, the Pulitzer-winning political cartoonist lured from the Charlotte Observer when Bill Kovach became editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, has become the latest big name to leave the papers in the wake of Kovach's resignation [see Southern Changes, December 1988].

Marlette, who joined Newsday in New York, said that under Kovach's leadership the Atlanta papers had enjoyed "shimmering integrity and quality" and "rose to finally claim their rightful place."

In his resignation letter, Marlette thanked the Constitution for "giving me such a great opportunity" and said he had tried "to find a way to stay here." Instead, he wrote, "Like many Southerners before me, I head north with a sense of sadness and longing for what might have been."

Elaborating on his leavetaking in an essay he published in Newsday and in the Charlotte Observer, Marlette said he wasn't sure how the move "will affect my work and the way I see things, but I'm sure they will be affected. Artists are emotional teabags. We have a semi-permeable membrane for skin. Everything gets under our skin and eventually finds its way into our work."

On the bright side, Marlette said he expected to find~ plenty of familiar themes in New York:

"I have long suspected that Malcolm X was right: The South is south of the Canadian border. The problems of my native region--the racism depicted by the jarring 'white' and 'colored' signs on the water fountains of my youth, the poverty and ignorance that crippled the spirit of the region--were just vivid symptoms of a disease that afflicts the nation as a whole. It's not very far, it turns out, from Forsyth County, Georgia, to Howard Beach.

"Growing up in the South in the Sixties, we were the nation's scapegoat and whipping boy--we wore our private demons and public neuroses on our sleeves--and the world had something to point at. However, I have noticed over the last few years that the South, as it homogenizes itself into the Sunbelt, has slowly relinquished its title, giving up its role as America's designated punching bag.

"New York City, Bonfire of the Vanities, has claimed that position in the demonology of America's collective unconscious. New York-bashing is a national sport now. New York is the new Mississippi--New York Burning.

"For all its glitz and glamour, and opportunity, the problems of modern life in the city have grown to such a scale and magnitude--drugs, homelessness, greed, corruption--that New York has become what Mississippi was in the Sixties--America's problem child, the scapegoat, a mess.

"The issues loom large in this urban crucible. The problems are clear and easy to see. Like the setting of my Southern childhood, the contradictions and ironies and hypocrisies are vivid. It's all a caricature--a cartoon, really. New York City is Toontown. This Southerner should feel right at home."