Drawing People Together
By Jim Beaugez | Photography courtesy of Marshall Ramsey
Taking a cue from musicians who offered internet concerts during the Covid pandemic, editorial cartoonist Marshall Ramsey put his pen to work with online art classes.
Nationally syndicated cartoonist Marshall Ramsey takes the “at-large” portion of his title at online news hub Mississippi Today seriously. Over the past two-and-a-half decades in the news business, he’s likely flipped an odometer or two roaming the state to speak to civic groups and other gatherings about his Pulitzer-nominated work and inspirational life story.
Like most business and leisure travel, COVID-19 stopped that cold in March. But Ramsey didn’t waste time complaining. He began thinking of ways he could use his talents to help others through the crisis.
“I kept watching videos of all these bands [performing] from their homes, and I was thinking, ‘I wish I had some musical talent,’” says the Mississippi Today editor-at-large. Then he landed on a solution. “I can’t get out and talk to people, per se, but I can talk to them online, and I can either do it through coloring sheets or I can do it through Facebook drawing lessons.”
He decided to do both, and by mid-April he was running weekly Facebook Live drawing sessions, which have logged more than 40,000 views. Ramsey took time to talk through his creative process and drawing techniques in the videos while answering questions and weaving in anecdotes from his colorful life experiences. He has also published 85 coloring sheets of Mississippi landmarks through Mississippi Today that students and teachers can use in their studies. Even though students can’t physically travel, he wants them to feel like they can get there through their imaginations and learn about their state in the process.
“What’s really neat is seeing the kids’ artwork [and] coloring sheets, and if they watched me draw something and they tried to draw it themselves,” he says. “If people want to see how I draw, great, but if they sit down and draw, too, that’s good therapy. I think everybody’s just tired [right now], and so if I can give people a break and teach them how to draw for an hour, then it’s definitely worth an hour of my time.”
While viewers from as far away as England have logged onto his sessions, Ramsey has been surprised by some viewers closer to home. When he was fresh out of college and working as a janitor, he dreamed of being an editorial cartoonist. A book written by Yazoo City, Miss., native Zig Ziglar inspired him to make that dream a reality through hard work and perseverance. Through his Facebook Live streams, he brought that association full circle.
“I got a very nice note from Zig Ziglar’s daughter saying how much she enjoyed it and sharing it with her grandkids,” he marvels. “He was probably one of the greatest motivational speakers of all time, so I was like, ‘this is a kind of neat, full-circle thing.’ So, you never know who’s going to watch.”
Ramsey knows people in Mississippi have plenty of experience dealing with natural disasters, from Hurricane Katrina in 2005 to the tornado outbreak last April, which saw a 2-mile-wide EF4 tornado plow 67 miles through several communities, including Bassfield and Soso. It was the third-largest tornado ever recorded in the U.S., and its track was visible from satellites orbiting Earth.
But this disaster is different. “You can’t see or touch a virus, and even if you contract COVID-19, there are no guarantees of the symptoms or severity you’ll experience,” he says. “Some carriers never know they have it, while others, tragically, succumb to its effects.”
During challenging times, though, he believes Mississippians lead by example.
“In Mississippi when things get bad, we get good,” he says. “I definitely saw it after Katrina. I worked on the Coast a lot after the storm [and] got to see people live everything they learned in Sunday school.”
He has overcome significant personal challenges, as well. In 2001, Ramsey was diagnosed with a malignant melanoma that shook his world. Since receiving a clean bill of health, he has devoted time to the American Cancer Society and the Melanoma Research Foundation and raised $13,000 for cancer research by running the Marine Corps Marathon. He has also been named a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize twice and become an author of several books.
“At the end of the day, if you can put something out there that’s positive and helpful, and can give one person a lift, I think that’s a really good start because we’re all in this together whether we want to admit it or not,” he says. “I think as soon as we realize that and start helping each other, I think we’re going to be a lot better off.”