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Cartoonist Marshall Ramsey branches out

As the political cartoonist for the Clarion-Ledger for the past 20 years, Marshall Ramsey has been an active voice in both Mississippi politics and on the national level. In recent years, he has branched out from his drawing desk to host radio and television programs as well as become an author.

EAGLE reporter Andy Belt sat down with the multi-talented Ramsey to talk about his past, his work during the election season and a media class he’s currently teaching at Ole Miss.

How did you first get into cartooning? What were some of the first things you drew?

I always joke that I became a cartoonist because that’s how my mom kept me quiet in church. I grew up in a family where we sat around the dinner table and talked. Which is weird, because we don’t do that anymore. We would talk about politics and current events. I would always love as a kid to open up the paper and see the editorial cartoons.

Around three to six years old I used to love drawing cars, planes and Peanuts. Everything came together when I was in high school. I said, ‘I want to do this for a living.’ And then when I got to college, I got to do it, and the rest is history. I got a marketing degree in college.

How did you find your job at the Clarion-Ledger?

Getting the job at the Clarion-Ledger took a long circle. I went to the University of Tennessee and was a janitor for a while. I went to go work for a paper in Marietta, Georgia and went from there to Houston and was a creative director for their newspaper.

Then I got the job as the marketing and creative director for the Copley News Services, a syndicate based in San Diego. One day, I got a call from my former editor in Houston, named Dan Turner, who was from Philadelphia, Mississippi. He told me that the Clarion-Ledger was open and I thought, well, I live in San Diego and this is really nice, I’m not sure if I want to move to Mississippi or not. He really convinced me to come out and 20 years ago, I came out.

Did this last election cycle affect your work?

It gave me good material. And I think it’s going to continue to give me good material. Now with social media, people can contact you and share their thoughts a lot easier than they used to. There was a lot of anger this last election, it was fascinating. I get to find out other sides to people. Politics is crazy, always has been. Mississippi has always been a great source for material too. I have a feeling that the next few years in Mississippi will give me good material.

In what ways have the shifts in media changed your job?

They have totally changed how I approach my job. Back in the day, I could sit and draw, I could come in and read the paper, come up with ideas, draw the cartoon. They’d take it downstairs, shoot it and put it on the page. Now, I can come up with an idea, draw it and post it online within the time it takes me to think of the idea and draw it. It’s more of an instantaneous skill than it used to be. But also, the market is more fractured out there. The audience is more fractured. You have to be able to use different platforms better to get more eyeballs.

Strangely enough, in the last six years, my market and brand has actually grown. Now I have all of these other great platforms. And also, I’ve discovered I can do radio, television, write and other things I didn’t know I could do. I was just seven cartoons a week back in the old days. It’s taught me that I can do a lot more than I thought.

What has been the most unexpected career path for you?

I never thought that I would have been a television host. (Ramsey hosts “Conversations” on Mississippi Public Broadcasting.) Just looking in the mirror that’s a shock to me. But it’s worked out really well. I’ve learned that it’s okay to try something and fail. Usually that opens up all kinds of new opportunities. Failure isn’t the end of the world.

Can you talk a little about the class you’re currently teaching at Ole Miss?

I got the invitation from the department to come up and they have the Integrated Marketing Communications program here which is kind of like my degree. I went to the communications school at University of Tennessee and ended up getting a marketing degree out of the school of business.

Most of the students here are about to graduate and I’m trying to teach them about self-branding on digital platforms so that when people look at them, they can see they have an incredible passion.