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Ramsey talks about life in cartoons

April 7, 2011

By STEVEN NALLEY
citybeat@bellsouth.net

As places to live go, Marshall Ramsey likes San Diego, Calif.
Ramsey said he enjoys San Diego’s weather, always temperate and nearly always sunny. However, he also said when he had a choice between working in San Diego and working in Mississippi, he chose Mississippi.
“San Diego is paradise for weather,” Ramsey said. “Mississippi is paradise for politics.”
Marshall Ramsey, nationally syndicated cartoonist for The Clarion-Ledger, visited the Mississippi Horse Park Thursday to give audiences insight into his favorite cartoons and the reasons why Mississippi is his favorite state.
Ramsey said one reason he loved Mississippi is because the state’s government provides some of the most fertile ground in the country for political cartooning. This was apparent from the moment Ramsey started cartooning for The Clarion-Ledger in December 1996.
“I moved here right around the time Fordice had his wreck,” Ramsey said, “and it’s just been getting better and better and better.”
No politician was safe as Ramsey displayed and discussed a number of cartoons lampooning Mississippi’s government. Ramsey’s obituary cartoon of former Gov. Kirk Fordice showed him strolling into Heaven, with an angel at the gate claiming Fordice threatened him the same way he had threatened WLBT reporter Bert Case in 1999.
Ramsey said people had called him complaining about his cartoons. One cartoon he said was particularly controversial featured a giant sign shaped like a derrière saying, “Welcome to Mississippi - The Fattest State in the Nation.”
“You would not believe the phone calls I got on that one,” Ramsey said. “Someone was on the phone chewing me out, and I told them, ‘Well, at least it wasn’t scratch-and-sniff.”
This was one example of the many additional jokes Ramsey piled on top of the ones in the cartoons he presented, inducing laughter throughout the audience of Greater Starkville Development Partnership members and other citizens.
However, Ramsey also showed several of his more serious cartoons. For every cartoon as irreverent as the one depicting Fordice in Heaven, there was one as sincere as the one depicting Mississippi State University football player Nick Bell entering Heaven where angels ring cowbells instead of playing harps.
“This was one of the harder ones to do because of my own track record with cancer,” Ramsey said. “It was like a real-life version of ‘Brian’s Song.’”
Other more serious cartoons Ramsey showed included a Biloxi lighthouse weeping over the wreckage of Hurricane Katrina and the Statue of Liberty weeping during 9/11. Another, more positive cartoon depicted Lance Armstrong out-racing a competitor in the Tour de France as well as the Grim Reaper, labeled “Cancer.”
“He’s helped a lot of people, including me,” Ramsey said. “His cancer was around the same time as my cancer. April 17 actually will be my 10th anniversary.”
Ramsey said he was lucky to survive his skin cancer, and Armstrong inspired him to co-found Run from the Sun, a 5k race that raises awareness of melanoma and money to cure it.
“I’m glad I got skin cancer, because all this good stuff came out of it,” Ramsey said. “Once you learn how to laugh at the things in life that drive you nuts, you’ll be a lot better off.”
Sometimes, Ramsey said, it’s hard to see the blessings when the worst happens. He said he didn’t even notice the clouds of smoke had silver linings at the time he drew them. He said he only realized what the silver lining to 9/11 was when he drew his favorite cartoon: dozens of diverse American faces composited into the face of a bald eagle.
“We were like that for 10 minutes,” Ramsey said. “When things get bad, we get good, especially in Mississippi.”
And that, Ramsey said, is the second reason he loves living here.

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