“We are in deep trouble when victimhood becomes a sacrament, personal injury a point of pride, when irreverence is seen as a hate crime, when the true values of art and religion are distorted and debased by fanatics and zealots, whether in the name of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Prophet Mohammed, or a literary Cult of Narcissus.” – Doug Marlette
Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist, political satirist, and novelist Doug Marlette died in an automobile accident on July 10th. Marlette was probably best known as the creator of Kudzu, a daily syndicated comic strip chronicling life in sleepy Bypass, S.C. Although ostensibly about the title character, an ordinary teen named after the weed that grows rampant in the South, Kudzu was a gentle (most of the time) and knowing satire about all things Southern, including Southern attitudes about religion and politics. The strip was not published for long before the most popular character turned out to be the Rev. Will B. Dunn, the pastor of the local Baptist church. Marlette went to great lengths to make Dunn realistic: Dunn could be a blowhard, many of his sermons and ideas fell flat, and he was often tempted by the power of his position; but his faith was sincere and he meant well. Some of my personal favorite moments in the strip:
· Kudzu purchases a mail-order chest-toupee to make himself look more “manly” and impress Veranda Tadsworth, the girl of his dreams. Veranda responds by accusing Kudzu of animal abuse for stuffing “some poor varmint” down his shirt.
· Local loser and “whitest white-boy on Earth” Nasal T. Lardbottom travels to Switzerland for a “race change and soul implant.”
· When Bypass’ most powerful citizens scheme to sell the entire town to a Japanese company, the only hold-out is Kudzu’s Uncle Dub, the local mechanic and Kudzu’s role model. Then-President Ronald Reagan pays a personal visit to Bypass to convince Dub to sell. When Reagan asks Dub if he is a Republican, Dub replies, “No Mr. President, I’m a Southern Baptist!”
For years, reading Kudzu was one of my favorite daily activities, and I have never forgotten all of the laughs it brought to me and my family. Marlette won the Pulitzer for his political cartoons, and he was not afraid to provoke people on the left or right (my personal favorite kind of provacateur). For some of his more pointed works, click here.
Rest in peace, Mr. Marlette.