Doug Marlette (1949–2007): Pulitzer Prize-Winning Cartoonist and Literary Talent

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Doug Marlette aka Douglas Nigel Marlette, born on December 6, 1949, and passing away on July 10, 2007, was an acclaimed American editorial cartoonist. Remarkably, he had earned a Pulitzer Prize during his career and ventured into the realm of literature. At the time of his untimely demise, he had successfully authored two novels and was honing his skills in long-length fiction writing. Additionally, Marlette’s widely beloved comic strip, “Kudzu,” enjoyed a lengthy run from 1981 to 2007 under the distribution of Tribune Media Services and even made a captivating transition into the world of musical comedy.

Douglas Nigel Marlette
Born Douglas Nigel Marlette
December 6, 1949
Greensboro, North Carolina, U.S.
Died July 10, 2007 (aged 57)
Marshall County, Mississippi, U.S.
Nationality American
Area(s) Cartoonist
Notable works Editorial cartoons, Kudzu

Early Life and Career Beginnings

Douglas Nigel Marlette, known to many as Doug Marlette, was born on December 6, 1949, in Greensboro, North Carolina. Raised in various locales, including Durham, North Carolina; Laurel, Mississippi; and Sanford, Florida, Marlette’s formative years laid the groundwork for his illustrious career as an editorial cartoonist and author.

Marlette’s artistic journey commenced during his college years at Seminole Community College and later at Florida State University. While pursuing his education, he honed his craft by contributing political cartoons to publications such as The Florida Flambeau, showcasing his talent and passion for visual storytelling.

Career Overview:

  • Charlotte Observer, 1972-87: Cartoonist, journalist, and writer.
  • Creator and author of the comic strip “Kudzu,” 1981-2007.
  • Constitution, Atlanta, GA, 1987-89: Editorial cartoonist.
  • Newsday, New York, NY, beginning 1989: Editorial cartoonist.
  • Tulsa World, 2006-07: Editorial cartoonist.
  • Distinguished Visiting Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication in 2001.
  • Gaylord Distinguished Visiting Lecturer at the University of Oklahoma’s College of Journalism and Mass Communication, 2006-07.
  • Serves on the UNC J-School’s Board of Visitors.
  • Made appearances on television programs, including ABC News Nightline, Good Morning America, and CBS Morning News, as well as on radio shows like Morning Edition.

Doug Marlette (1949–2007)

Professional Success and Accomplishments

Marlette’s prominence in editorial cartooning began with his tenure at esteemed publications, including The Charlotte Observer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, New York Newsday, The Tallahassee Democrat, and The Tulsa World. His biting satire and incisive commentary earned him widespread acclaim, culminating in the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning in 1988.

In addition to his editorial work, Marlette’s iconic comic strip “Kudzu,” which debuted in 1981, captured readers’ hearts worldwide. The strip’s success led to a musical comedy adaptation, further solidifying Marlette’s status as a multifaceted creative force.

Awards, Honors:

  • Overseas Press Club Citation
  • Nieman Fellow, Harvard University (1980-81)
  • Award from Sigma Delta Chi—Atlanta Chapter (1982)
  • National Headliners Awards (1983, 1988)
  • First Prize for Editorial Cartooning, Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards (1984)
  • Inclusion in the Register of Men and Women Who Are Changing America by Esquire (1984)
  • Distinguished Service Award for Editorial Cartooning, Sigma Delta Chi (circa 1985)
  • First Amendment Award (1986)
  • First Place, John Fischetti Editorial Cartoon Competition (1986)
  • Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning, Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism (1988)
  • Golden Plate Academy of Achievement Award (1991)
  • Journalism Hall of Fame (2002)
  • Order of the Long Leaf Pine, State of North Carolina (2007)

Doug Marlette (1949–2007)

Literary Contributions and Academic Pursuits

Beyond his achievements in cartooning, Marlette’s literary endeavors added depth to his illustrious career. His novels, including “The Bridge” and “Magic Time,” garnered critical acclaim and showcased his storytelling prowess. Moreover, his insights into the cartooning process were immortalized in his book “In Your Face: A Cartoonist at Work.”

Marlette’s passion for education and mentorship was evident in his roles as a visiting professor at esteemed institutions such as the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Oklahoma. His induction into the UNC Journalism Hall of Fame underscored his impact on future generations of journalists and artists.

Cartoon Collections

“The Emperor Has No Clothes” (Published under the name Marlette)

Introduction by Reese Cleghorn

Published by Graphic Press in 1976 (Washington, DC)

“Drawing Blood: Political Cartoons” (Published under the name Marlette)

Foreword by Jules Feiffer

Published by Graphic Press in 1980 (Washington, DC)


Published by Ballantine in 1982 (New York, NY)

“Preacher: The Wit and Wisdom of Reverend Will B. Dunn”

Published by Nelson in 1984 (Nashville, TN)

“It’s a Dirty Job—But Somebody Has to Do It! Cartoons”

Published by Willnotdee Press in 1984 (Charlotte, NC)

“Just a Simple Country Preacher: More Wit and Wisdom of Reverend Will B. Dunn”

Published by Nelson in 1985 (Nashville, TN)

“There’s No Business Like Soul Business”

Published by Peachtree in 1987 (Atlanta, GA)

“Shred This Book! The Scandalous Cartoons of Doug Marlette”

Published by Peachtree in 1988 (Atlanta, GA)

“I Am Not a Televangelist! The Continuing Saga of Reverend Will B. Dunn”

Published by Longstreet in 1988 (Atlanta, GA)

“A Doublewide with a View: The Kudzu Chronicles”

Published by Longstreet in 1989 (Atlanta, GA)

“‘Til Stress Do Us Part: A Guide to Modern Love by Reverend Will B. Dunn”

Published by Longstreet in 1989 (Atlanta, GA)

Doug Marlette carton

“In Your Face: A Cartoonist at Work”

Published by Houghton in 1991 (Boston, MA)

“Even White Boys Get the Blues: Kudzu’s First Ten Years”

Introduction by Pat Conroy

Published by Times Books in 1992 (New York, NY)

“Faux Bubba: Bill & Hillary Go to Washington”

Published by Times Books in 1993 (New York, NY)

“Gone with the Kudzu”

Published by Rutledge Hill Press in 1995 (Nashville, TN)

“‘I Feel Your Pain'”

Published by Loblolly Books in 1996 (Winston-Salem, NC)

Doug Marlette (1949–2007)


“Chocolate Is My Life: Featuring Doris the Parakeet”

Publisher: Peachtree Publishers

Location: Atlanta, GA

Year: 1987

“The Before and After Book”

Type: Children’s book

Publisher: Houghton

Location: Boston, MA

Year: 1992

“Kudzu: A Southern Musical”

Type: Play

Co-authored with Jack Herrick and Bland Simpson

Produced at Duke University and Ford’s Theatre, Washington, DC

Publisher: S. French

Location: New York, NY

Year: 1999

“The Bridge”

Type: Novel

Publisher: HarperCollins

Location: New York, NY

Year: 2001

“Magic Time”

Type: Novel

Publisher: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux

Location: New York, NY

Year: 2006

Additional Information:

Creator of syndicated animated editorial cartoons broadcast on Today, National Broadcasting Company.

Creator of the comic strip “Kudzu” in 1981.

Doug Marlette carton

Personal Life and Tragic Passing

Despite his professional accomplishments, Marlette remained grounded in his personal life, cherishing time with his family and forging lasting friendships. His close bond with renowned author Pat Conroy exemplified his warmth and generosity of spirit.

Tragically, Marlette’s life was cut short on July 10, 2007, in a devastating accident. While en route to assist students with a performance of “Kudzu, A Southern Musical,” Marlette’s vehicle hydroplaned and struck a tree, resulting in his untimely death. His passing left an irreplaceable void in journalism and the arts, with colleagues and admirers mourning the loss of a visionary talent.

Legacy and Lasting Impact

Douglas Nigel Marlette’s enduring legacy is one of artistic brilliance, intellectual curiosity, and unwavering commitment to his craft. His contributions to editorial cartooning, literature, and education inspire and resonate with audiences worldwide. As his memory lives on through his timeless creations, Marlette’s influence remains indelibly etched in the annals of history.


Film rights for The Bridge have been purchased by Paramount Pictures.


Fresh out of college in 1972, Doug Marlette became a senior editorial cartoonist at the Charlotte Observer. His talent quickly gained recognition, and by the 1980s, he had earned widespread acclaim as one of the nation’s leading political cartoonists. In 1987, he made a pivotal move to the Atlanta Constitution, solidifying his reputation with a Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning in 1988. While he eventually established his home base at Newsday in New York City, his cartoons found their way into over a hundred newspapers across the United States.

By his passing in 2007, Marlette’s work had expanded its reach, gracing the pages of publications such as Time, Newsweek, Christian Century, and Rolling Stone. Jerry Shinn, the editorial page editor at the Charlotte Observer, reflected on the source of Marlette’s appeal in an Esquire article, stating, “He produces powerful, straightforward, and on-target work that reflects an unwavering commitment to honesty.” “Shred This Book! The Scandalous Cartoons of Doug Marlette” is a compilation of 154 of Marlette’s political cartoons, lauded by People contributor Ralph Novak for their “unforgettable clarity.”

Doug Marlette carton

Many individuals who steer clear of the editorial pages may still recognize Marlette’s contributions through his syndicated comic strip, Kudzu, launched in 1981. Kudzu humorously depicts life in a quirky Southern town. The comic strips from Kudzu have been compiled in various collections, including titles such as “Preacher: The Wit and Wisdom of Reverend Will B. Dunn,” “Just a Simple Country Preacher: More Wit and Wisdom of Reverend Will B. Dunn,” and “Even White Boys Get the Blues: Kudzu’s First Ten Years.”

Kudzu Dubose serves as a semi-autobiographical character in Marlette’s work. He is portrayed as an awkward teenager yearning to escape the monotony and stifling atmosphere of his fictional hometown, Bypass, North Carolina. One of the standout characters in the Kudzu strips is Reverend Will B. Dunn, a somewhat dubious and self-serving figure who embodies some of the well-publicized flaws seen in certain televangelists.

Marlette, drawing cartoons since early childhood, also ventured into fiction. His debut novel, “The Bridge,” was published in 2001. This work, loosely based on his own life, narrates the story of Pick Cantrell, a political cartoonist. After a falling out with his big-city editor, Pick returns to his hometown, where he cautiously reacquaints himself with the community and must contend with his cantankerous grandmother, Mama Lucy.

Doug Marlette carton

He gradually uncovers Mama Lucy’s courageous actions during the 1934 textile strike. The Charlotte Observer correspondent Polly Paddock, described the book as “a captivating, well-crafted narrative that offers a fascinating glimpse into an obscure part of North Carolina’s history. It also proves that talent in one creative field can overflow into another.”

Paddock commented, “Marlette illuminates the story with a blend of humor and heartfelt emotion, his writing displaying grace and confidence, and his dedication to the workers’ cause is profound.” In the Library Journal, Thomas L. Kilpatrick observed that the novel “sheds light on an often-overlooked aspect of North Carolina’s history and strikes a perfect balance between humor and dignity.” Several reviewers also emphasized that the novel transcends the strike itself. According to Carol Haggas in Booklist, Marlette “skillfully portrays the intense familial connections that can either shatter or empower the human spirit.”

Doug Marlette carton

In his second novel, “Magic Time,” Marlette skillfully blends a coming-of-age narrative with the backdrop of the civil rights movement. The story revolves around Carter Ransom, a successful New York journalist, who returns to his hometown of Troy, Mississippi, seeking solace after enduring a mental breakdown. However, his homecoming takes an unexpected turn when he confronts the release of a man his father, Judge Mitchell Ransom, had once sentenced to prison for a church massacre involving African Americans and civil rights activists in 1965.

Meanwhile, Carter begins to suspect that his father may have concealed the truth to protect a family friend who could be the real culprit. Carter finds himself thrust into the media spotlight surrounding a new trial, where a local businessman, the former imperial wizard of the local Klansmen, is accused of the decades-old crime.

Donna Bettencourt of LibraryJournal praised Marlette’s work as “a powerful and eloquent novel that encapsulates all the emotions and turbulence of the early Sixties.” Other reviewers also lauded the book. A Kirkus Reviews contributor commended Marlette for setting “a harmonious tone, both glorious and profoundly moving” and for flawlessly capturing a period of monumental transformation, dubbing “Magic Time” an exceptional piece of Southern fiction. Carol Haggas, writing in Booklist, emphasized that Marlette’s second offering exudes majesty and intricacy, showcasing the finesse of a seasoned author.

Despite his untimely departure, Marlette’s legacy endures through his timeless creations and his indelible mark on the world of editorial cartooning and literature. His influence inspires aspiring artists and writers to fearlessly pursue their creative passions and use their voices to effect positive change in the world.

In honoring the life and contributions of Douglas Nigel Marlette, we pay tribute to a pioneering spirit whose work will forever resonate with generations to come.

Biographical and Critical Sources:


Doug Marlette’s “In Your Face: A Cartoonist’s Creative Journey,” published by Houghton in 1991, offers an insightful look into the world of cartooning.


  • Booklist, March 15, 1993, Review of “In Your Face: A Cartoonist at Work,” Page 1341
  • Booklist, September 15, 2001, Carol Haggas, Review of “The Bridge,” Page 193
  • Booklist, August 1, 2006, Carol Haggas, Review of “Magic Time,” Page 42
  • Charlotte Observer, October 17, 2001, Polly Paddock, Review of “The Bridge”
  • Christian Century, August 28, 1985, Review of “Just a Simple Country Preacher,” Page 778
  • Christian Century, July 1, 1987, Review of “There’s No Business Like Soul Business,” Page 604
  • Current Events, a Weekly Reader Publication, September 30, 2005, Laura McClure, “Battle Lines: Political Cartoonists Take on Iraq,” Interview with the Author, Page 1
  • Entertainment Weekly, January 24, 1992, Liz Logan, Review of “In Your Face,” Page 52
  • Entertainment Weekly, September 29, 2006, Gilbert Cruz, Review of “Magic Time,” Page 87
  • Esquire, December 1984, “Proud Performers; Entertainment, Sports & Style (Esquire’s Register),” Page 377
  • Food Technology, Summer, 1992, Review of “In Your Face”
  • Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 2001, Review of “The Bridge,” Page 1155
  • Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 2006, Review of “Magic Time,” Page 595
  • Library Journal, October 15, 2001, Thomas L. Kilpatrick, Review of “The Bridge,” Page 108
  • Library Journal, August 1, 2006, Donna Bettencourt, Review of “Magic Time,” Page 72
  • Los Angeles Times Book Review, November 3, 1991, Review of “In Your Face,” Page 18

Doug Marlette carton

  • Los Angeles Times Book Review, December 20, 1992, Review of “Even White Boys Get the Blues: Kudzu’s First Ten Years,” Page 8
  • National Catholic Reporter, May 12, 1989, William C. Graham, Review of “I Am Not a Televangelist! The Continuing Saga of Reverend Will B. Dunn,” Page 36
  • Nieman Reports, Winter, 1991, Mike Peters, Review of “In Your Face”
  • New York Times Book Review, November 4, 2001, Jon Garelick, Review of “The Bridge,” Page 32
  • New York Times Book Review, October 29, 2006, Christopher Dickey, “Freedom Summer,” Review of “Magic Time,” Page 11
  • People, June 1, 1987, Review of “There’s No Business Like Soul Business,” Page 18
  • People, August 1, 1988, Ralph Novak, Review of “Shred This Book! The Scandalous Cartoons of Doug Marlette,” Page 32
  • Publishers Weekly, June 29, 1992, Review of “The Before and After Book,” Page 65
  • Publishers Weekly, August 6, 2001, Michael Archer, Review of “The Bridge,” Page 54
  • Publishers Weekly, September 10, 2001, Review of “The Bridge,” Page 58
  • Publishers Weekly, June 26, 2006, Review of “Magic Time,” Page 27
  • State, October 18, 2006, Claudia Smith Brinson, Review of “Magic Time”
  • Sun-News (Myrtle Beach, SC), October 15, 2006, D.G. Schumacher, “Tale Bridges 2 Periods: Marlette’s Story Draws Southern Town, People,” Review of “Magic Time”
  • Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), December 29, 1991, Review of “In Your Face,” Page 2
  • Tulsa World, January 29, 2006, Tom Droege, “World Hires Pulitzer-winning Cartoonist”
 The GoComics Blog Laugh Tracks: Remembering Doug Marlette
The GoComics Blog
Laugh Tracks: Remembering Doug Marlette

FAQ about Douglas Nigel Marlette aka Doug Marlette

Q1: Who was Douglas Nigel Marlette?

A1: Douglas Nigel Marlette, born on December 6, 1949, was a renowned American editorial cartoonist and author. He gained widespread recognition for his contributions to both the world of political cartoons and literature.

Q2: What was his most famous work?

A2: Marlette is best known for his famous comic strip “Kudzu,” distributed by Tribune Media Services from 1981 to 2007. This comic strip was beloved by readers and adapted into a musical comedy.

Q3: Did Douglas Nigel Marlette receive any notable awards?

A3: Yes, he was a highly decorated artist. Marlette became the first cartoonist ever awarded a Nieman Fellowship in 1981. He also won the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning in 1988 and received the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award in 1997.

Q4: What were some of his notable books?

A4: Marlette’s literary talents extended beyond cartooning. He authored several books, including “The Bridge” (2001) and “Magic Time” (2006). His works often garnered critical acclaim and recognition.

Q5: What was Douglas Nigel Marlette’s impact on academia?

A5: Marlette served as a distinguished visiting professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and was inducted into the UNC Journalism Hall of Fame in 2002. He also held a position as a Gaylord Distinguished Visiting Lecturer at the University of Oklahoma.

Q6: Can you tell me more about his personal life?

A6: Douglas Nigel Marlette and his wife, Melinda Hartley Marlette, split their time between residences in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Hillsborough, North Carolina. They had a son named Jackson, and Marlette had a brother, Chris, and a sister, Marianne.

Q7: How did Douglas Nigel Marlette pass away?

A7: Tragically, Marlette died in a car accident in Marshall County, Mississippi. He was a Toyota pickup truck passenger who hydroplaned and struck a tree during heavy rain. This incident occurred while he was traveling to Oxford, Mississippi, to assist students in preparing for their performance of “Kudzu, A Southern Musical.” His death was a significant loss to the world of cartooning and literature.

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