Food, Water, Drawing: Cartoonist Mike Marland's Career on the Editorial Page

Jan 10, 2017

For nearly 30 years Mike Marland’s editorial cartoons have been a feature of New Hampshire's political landscape. Marland’s work appeared regularly in The Concord Monitor, but following a recent belt-tightening at the paper, Marland has been let go. NHPR’s Sean Hurley spoke to Marland about his time at the Monitor – and about his new venture.

 


Mike Marland is 58 and has been drawing most of those years.  His commute - between his home and the red barn where he works - sometimes 7 days a week, sometimes 10 to 12 hours a day – is about 20 feet.  

“I need food, water and I need to draw,” Marland says.  And he needs to draw a lot.  A hundred dollars is the most he’s ever made from a single cartoon.  

Marland in front of the red barn where he works.
Credit Sean Hurley

“I start off with my Murado Black Warrior pencils. Isn't that a great name for a pencil for an editorial cartoonist?” he says.

Marland starts to sketch.

“I draw editorial cartoons in a real liberal slant,” he says. “And then I draw R,F,D,, which is a rural humor comic strip, and Snuffy Smith which is an old time hillbilly type humor comic strip.”

Both R,F,D, and Snuffy Smith are syndicated in a thousand or so papers around the country - but here in NH, Marland is best known for his editorial cartoons in the Monitor.  

“There's nobody with the longevity of Mike Marland,” Ralph Jimenez, Marland’s long-time editor at the Monitor says.   “He has been New Hampshire's political cartoonist for a generation.”

Jimenez says the decision to let Marland go came from the paper’s parent company. “I thought it was not the best decision to let New Hampshire's only local cartoonist go,” he says, “but it's what's happening in the industry.”

Rough sketch with final.
Credit Sean Hurley

From here on out the Monitor will follow the national trend and get their cartoons from a syndicate. Less expensive, but Marland says, “A lot of them are what I call namby pamby cartoons. They're kind of general and inoffensive.”

And while being specific and offensive have never been Marland’s goals - he does believe it’s his job to speak his mind. Make a point - be funny - but always be honest.

A recipe for the hot water he often finds himself in.

“It's usually the ones that I think are fairly innocuous are the ones that cause a stir,” Marland says. “Like there was one where I put Kelly Ayotte on, I think the NRA, made her a lapdog. People went ballistic over that."

 

Marland’s greatest stir - a cartoon with four words - featured George W. Bush in a small plane - “Bush Budget” written on the side - heading toward the Twin Towers. One tower was marked “Social” – the other “Security”.  At the time in early 2002, Bush had set his sights on the program.

 

Ralph Jimenez says the comic was apt - but coming so soon after 9/11, it crossed the line. “And the next day after that the volume of e-mail crashed our servers and sent us down for days,” Jimenez recalls.  “We got hate mail. There were death threats.”

 

Jimenez thought both he and the other editors at the Monitor would lose their jobs.  They didn’t.  But Tim McCarthy, editor at the Littleton Courier, which also ran Marland’s cartoons – did.  

Marland was forced to explain – to apologize.  He tore up the original drawing.  “I showed that one to my wife and I said well people are going to be pissed at this because I'm showing Bush as a terrorist,” he says. “That's the way I saw it.”

What he sees is what he draws.  Where a comedian might explore the bleeding social edge, places of uncertainty and division  – the editorial cartoonist, Marland says, explores the bleeding political one.

Marland at work.
Credit Sean Hurley

And while he’s already begun freelancing for a new outlet, InDepthNH.org, an online news publication, he’s not entirely sure what the next few months will bring.

“I'm going to fly by the seat of my pants for a little while and see what happens,” he says.

“I mean what does a cartoonist do when they don't have a job?” I ask.  

“I don't know,” he says.

“What would you do?” I ask.

“I don't know. My fantasy would be to chuck everything. Go to Maui and paint. I'd be happy.”

But for now, Mike Marland is going to stay in New Hampshire and draw.