Cartoonist speaks to NLCC crowd about work

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 1, 2010

NATCHEZ — Marshall Ramsey is a funny guy.

It is easy to get a sense of his humor in the editorial cartoons published each day.

But there is more to the creative process than just the paper and ink used to capture the moments of political, economic or social going-ons in the world that Ramsey draws.

Ramsey, the editorial cartoonist for Jackson-based newspaper The Clarion Ledger, presented a writer’s workshop Sunday for the 21st annual Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration.

The writer’s workshops were the final event in the four-day NLCC

Ramsey, a two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist, discussed the process he uses each day to produce his art.

“My head is full of bad ideas, and I like to get them out on paper so I can crumple it up and get it out,” Ramsey said. “The idea is the hardest part of what I do.”

Ramsey said each day begins with a review of the hot topics or stories in local, state and national news.

From there, Ramsey said he looks for a clever way to put them together.

“The secret to being creative is figuring out how one and one equals three,” he said. “To be creative you have to know how to observe and take one thing and relate it to another and come up with something else.”

Ramsey said sometimes his creative math makes people laugh and sometimes it makes people angry. But Ramsey said he’s happy with either emotion.

“My job isn’t to make people happy every day,” he said. “It is to make people think.”

He said one challenge he encounters every day is getting his message across quickly. Speaking to a room of mostly educators, he said they often have the same roadblock.

“I have about 30 seconds with a reader. I remember when (students) had 22-minute attention spans because of sitcoms,” he said. “Now, (the attention span) is about the length of a YouTube video.”

But Ramsey didn’t get to where he is, a nationally syndicated cartoonist, quickly or easily. He worked as a cartoonist for his high school and college newspapers, but wasn’t able to find a job after college.

The only position he was able to secure was that of a janitor at high school in his hometown in Georgia.

“About six months into that, after sulking around and feeling sorry for myself, I realized I was burying my talent,” Ramsey said. “So I started doing caricatures for teachers and started doing more and more of that kind of work.”

That eventually led to a job in the advertising department at a newspaper which jumpstarted his career as a cartoonist.

Ramsey called his job “a dream” and a true testament to where hard work and dedication can lead. He said when given the chance to talk to high school students, he doesn’t shy away from telling about his job as a janitor because it taught him a lesson.

“I like to tell the kids that I fell on my face because it is likely at some point they will to,” he said. “What is important, and what I want them to learn, is it doesn’t matter how you fail, but how you get back up.

“Sometimes the worst moments in your life can become your best.”