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Darby Conley

Marshall Ramsey

Paige Braddock

Ron Ruelle

Rick Baldwin


Marshall Ramsey: Striking Fear in the Hearts of Dumbasses

Marshall Ramsey doesn't let it bug him when people call to say they hate his guts. In fact, it can often be pretty funny. Like the time when he made fun of the mayor of Jackson, Miss., who had recently thrown a temper tantrum about something—so Ramsey drew an editorial cartoon of him locked in his office with his phones ripped out, sucking his thumb. One city councilman was so offended that he led a protest against Ramsey's existence.

"It was kind of funny watching him outside protesting," Ramsey recalls. "He's a real big guy, huge—and Mississippi in the summertime is very, very hot, around 105 that day, and he was out sweating his can off. The TV cameras showed up and of course got him, but as soon as they packed up their stuff and left, man, he made a beeline for the air-conditioning."

Ramsey chuckles in delight at the memory. It's just one of many from his three and a half years working as editorial cartoonist for the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, the only paper in Mississippi to have one on staff full-time. "You'll get a phone call from somebody saying, 'I was having a bad day until I saw your cartoon.' That's kind've cool," he says. "Then you get a phone call from somebody saying 'You know, I hate your guts.' And that's kind of cool. It's pretty rewarding."

Thus far, the paper's editors have nominated Ramsey four times for a Pulitzer Prize, a strong show of confidence in the 32-year-old UT grad's abilities. Perhaps an even stronger testament to the appeal of his work is his syndication through Copley News Service, which has placed his cartoons in papers around the world ("It's kind of cool to see your work in Japanese.") and in newspapers like the New York Times and USA Today.

Right now, on a Thursday afternoon, he's working on three different cartoons, two local ones and a national one for syndication—"I've got Gore picking Elian as his Vice President," he reveals. But big news has been light as of late, and the targets haven't been as easy to pick. ("I think everybody's sick of Clinton at this point," he says, almost wistfully.) Most of Ramsey's day consists of reading newspapers in print and online in the morning, looking for just the right issues to tweak in the cartoons he'll draw that afternoon for the next day's paper.

"Stupidity, usually, is one of the first things that jumps out at me," Ramsey says. "And I'm pretty lucky—like our last governor, for instance, was very pro-family and yet they caught him coming off the plane with his girlfriend. Sometimes it's too easy; it's a target-rich environment. As my wife so lovingly puts it, I go to work, read the paper, make fun of somebody, and come home."

If you get the impression that Ramsey loves his job, you're right. "Well, you've gotta admit, I get to draw a cartoon every day—it's a great way to make a living," he says. "It's fun when you do a cartoon and it gets a reaction. Like I've been doing some cartoons lately on the teacher pay issue here in Mississippi, and between the editorials and everything else, they've actually started pushing the issue back into the Legislature, so some days you do a lot of good."

Ramsey's road to irreverent do-gooding started at UT's Daily Beacon where he started cartooning in his freshman year; it was something he had been thinking of even as a child reading MAD Magazine and editorial cartoons in the local paper in Marietta, Ga. At the Beacon, he at long last got to try his hand at editorial cartooning—and didn't do terribly well. "I wasn't that good, I guess—I thought I was great, delusions of grandeur—but I really enjoyed it and thought, 'Hey you can kind of make a difference doing this.' By the time I was a senior I was hooked, I was ready to go."

One of the main reasons he got hooked was meeting Charlie Daniel, then editorial cartoonist for the late Knoxville Journal. Ramsey had to write a speech for a class presentation on his hoped-for career, so one afternoon he walked into the Journal's editorial office and asked to speak with Daniel. "If somebody came in at 2 o'clock here, I'd probably panic because it's so close to my deadlines," Ramsey says. "But Charlie sat back and talked to me for two hours. He interviewed me as much as I interviewed him, and from that point on he did everything he could to help me. I credit him for getting me into the business." (Ramsey plans on naming his first child, due in a month, Daniel.)

When he graduated in '91, Ramsey's aspirations hit a brick wall. "It's one of those things where you tell people you'll be an editorial cartoonist and there are more NBA basketball players in the world—so they look at you kind of funny." With all his leads falling through, Ramsey took a job as night janitor at a school in Atlanta as he continued to submit his work to newspapers. He finally got a job as an advertising artist for a Marietta paper—which meant a pay cut. Meanwhile, he took art classes and did cartoons for the school paper at Kennesaw State College, which won him an award from the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists. This led to a new job for a Houston newspaper chain, syndication and a position with Copley, and eventually his current job with the Clarion-Ledger.

"If it's an issue I care very deeply about, then I try to do a cartoon that'll have some impact on the issue," he says. "There are some things here that are so absurd that my goal obviously is just to point out how absurd the person or issue is. I tell people that what I try to do is not unlike what a pitcher does on the mound, because if I threw fastballs every day I'd get hit out of the park. But I try to mix it up a little bit."

The Marshall Ramsey website

April 20, 2000 * Vol. 10, No. 16
© 2000 Metro Pulse