After 6,000 or so cartoons, Mike Marland is leaving the ‘Monitor’

  • Mike Marland, Oct. 25, 2016

  • Mike Marland, Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Monitor staff
Published: 12/21/2016 6:30:16 PM

One of the most familiar faces at the Monitor is about to leave, although the face he has made familiar isn’t his own – it’s those of the state’s movers and shakers.

“Nobody knows who I am. I like it that way,” said Mike Marland, who has drawn the paper’s editorial cartoons for three decades.

Over the years, between single-panel cartoons on the editorial pages and his more recent colorful Birch & Finch strip, Marland has produced more than 6,000 Monitor cartoons, skewering elected officials from both parties (but mostly Republicans) while producing laughter, irritation and occasionally anger.

Marland will be leaving the Monitor as of Jan. 1 for a reason that is all too common among newspapers these days: His freelance contract was not renewed for financial reasons.

Like all newspapers, the Monitor has downsized as print media shifts to digital media, gaining readers but losing income as traditional advertising struggles with the web and smart phones.

“It’s not something we took lightly. Our industry has faced its share of challenges in recent years, and it forces you to make some hard decisions. This was certainly one of those,” Monitor editor Steve Leone said. “Mike’s been a big part of our editorial pages for three decades. He should be proud of the work he’s done. Our readers will miss him, and so will we.”

Losing a staff cartoonist isn’t unusual for newspapers. While at one time most daily newspapers had a staff political cartoonist, that position has fallen victim to the industry’s cost-cutting, and these days, even freelance cartoonists are rare. Marland himself once sold cartoons to 11 papers in New Hampshire. Once a far more frequent contributor to the Monitor, Marland cartoons in recent years ran three days a week.

“In New England, I think Dan Wasserman at the (Boston) Globe is the only one as far as an actual on-staff, local newspaper cartoonist being paid a living wage,” said Peter Noonan, who does political cartoons for the online news source Manchester Ink Link but makes his living with magazine illustrations and graphic design work.

As a high schooler in the late 1990s, when the newspaper industry peaked financially, Noonan talked about the profession with Bob Dix, a longtime staff political cartoonist with the Union Leader out of Manchester.

“I thought this would be a wonderful thing,” he recalled. “But within a few short years – no, it wasn’t around at all.”

There are only 50 or 60 staff cartoonists left at newspapers across the country, estimated Adam Zyglis, staff cartoonist at the Buffalo News and president of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists.

“I think publishers and editors view editorial cartoonists as a badge of honor or a luxury – a way to make them stand out and be unique – so they get cut when times are tight,” he said.

Mike Marland, 58, is a North Country native who attended Lisbon High School and began doodling and drawing as a youngster. He got his first cartooning job while working in a printing shop that handled the local paper, the Littleton Currier.

“They had syndicated cartoons that they’d plug in every week. … I guess the publisher, Doug Garfield, found out that I could draw and he asked me if I wanted to draw cartoons,” Marland said.

After a decade of drawing cartoons on the side, he went full-time and in 1987 hooked up with the Monitor.

“I used to drop them through the slot in the front door” when the paper was at 3 N. State St., he said. “I was working at another newspaper, so I’d stop by at 6 a.m. and throw them through the slot, and hope they didn’t get stepped on.”

Marland describes himself as a “flaming liberal” who tried to skewer both parties until partisanship grew more pointed.

“I cartooned during the Clinton years and did just as many cartoons about Clinton as I did about Bush,” he said. “But then the right has pissed me off so much, I decided I’m not going to give them any ammunition. ... People ask, ‘Why don’t you say anything about the Democrats?’ Because Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, all those people are taking care of that.”

Of his many cartoons, two stand out in public memory.

One, from July 2012, depicted then-State House Speaker Bill O’Brien with a Hitler mustache and the caption “If the mustache fits ...” It referred to former representative Steve Vaillancourt’s cry of “Sieg Heil” directed toward O’Brien after the two lawmakers disagreed over something.

O’Brien was so angry about the cartoon that he barred Monitor reporters from his office for a time, but Marland has no regrets.

“I think it was a great idea,” he said of the cartoon. As for the resulting commotion: “I had a blast!”

More controversial was a cartoon published Feb. 5, 2002, just five months after the 9/11 terror attacks in New York City, that showed President George W. Bush flying a plane labeled “budget” into Twin Tower-like structures labeled Social Security. It was a reference to Bush’s plan to tap into Social Security’s surplus for military funding.

A national outcry resulted and Marland regretted the cartoon, going so far as to rip up the original.

“Once I realized how the families felt about it, I decided I shouldn’t have done that,” he said.

But then, he said, the outcry continued and got so political that he recanted. “With the reaction from everybody else I decided, ‘Screw you, you can’t tell me what I can draw and can’t draw.’ ”

So he salvaged the torn cartoon and taped it back together again.

Marland will continue to draw RFD, a weekly comic strip about life in rural New Hampshire that appears in a number of weekly newspapers, as well as other illustration work – and even writes some gags for Snuffy Smith, a comic strip that has been running for 100 years.

As for New Hampshire political cartoons, he is partnering with InDepthNH, an independent reporting organization started by a former newspaper reporter that already runs one of his cartoons online.

As with all news these days, however, getting an outlet is relatively easy, but making money isn’t. “We’re going to try to get underwriters to finance it,” he said.

Marland’s transition to online cartooning reflects one of the bright spots in the industry, said Zyglis of the Buffalo News.

The online publication Politico has a cartoonist, he noted, while well-known cartoonist David Horsey at the Los Angeles Times is digital-only.

Combined with trends in cartooning and illustration, it signals hope, he said.

“Instead of just the traditional single-panel cartoon ... you see animation, comics journalism, graphic novelists becoming reporters. The future for cartooning, like traditional media, is going to be a much bigger diversity of approaches and fragmentation,” he said.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)

David Brooks bio photo

David Brooks is a reporter and the writer of the sci/tech column Granite Geek and blog, as well as moderator of Science Cafe Concord events. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in mathematics he became a newspaperman, working in Virginia and Tennessee before spending 28 years at the Nashua Telegraph . He joined the Monitor in 2015.

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