Mike Ritter, art director for the GA Voice, died shortly after midnight on Sunday, March 30, 2014. He was 48.
He was admitted into the emergency room at Atlanta Medical Center on Friday, March 28, where doctors determined he had a dissection on his aorta, a severe condition. After undergoing a 10-hour surgery on Saturday, he died due to the severity of his condition and complications from undergoing open-heart surgery.
Ritter was a native of Washington State and attended college at Arizona State University. While working on the newspaper at ASU, Ritter was awarded 10 Gold Circle Awards from Columbia University’s Scholastic Press Association. He also won two first-place awards in the editorial cartoon and comic strip categories.
He was the editorial cartoonist at the Tribune in Phoenix from 1992-2005 and a syndicated cartoonist with King Features Syndicate.
Ritter was honored by the Suburban Newspapers of America while at the Tribune and was awarded first place for editorial cartooning by the Arizona Press Club in 1993, 1995 and 1996.
In 1999 he received the Thomson newspaper chain’s highest award for illustration and a Freedom of Information Award from the Arizona Newspaper Association.
He served as president of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists from 2003-2004. The AAEC noted Ritter was likely one of the first openly gay staff cartoonist at a mainstream daily newspaper while he worked for the East Valley and Scottsdale Tribune papers in Arizona. The East Valley Tribune has a slide show of his nationally-recognized 9-11 political cartoon as well as many of his illustrations.
In 2004 he was profiled by Editor & Publisher magazine where he was also noted for being an openly gay staff cartoonist at a mainstream daily newspaper.
After Ritter moved to Atlanta, he joined the staff of the former Southern Voice and David Atlanta where he was a graphic designer and cartoonist. He also was a cartoonist for GA Voice and worked for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution before joining the GA Voice staff as full-time art director last year. In 2011 as cartoonist for the GA Voice, he won third place for Best Original Editorial Cartoon in the National Newspaper Association’s Better Newspaper contest. The cartoon was a biting look at the Atlanta Police Department’s raid on the Atlanta Eagle after news broke that that the lead investigator of the raid was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol and marijuana.
No drugs were found during the raid of the Eagle in 2009.
Many of his GA Voice and SoVo cartoons were picked up by other LGBT media outlets and blogs.
“Mike was a dear friend, a great person. He made me laugh. He made me think. He made me a better person and a better editor. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of old music and old movies. A true Renaissance man,” said Dyana Bagby, GA Voice editor. “He kept his great sense of humor until the very end even though he was in pain and uncomfortable. We at the GA Voice are heartbroken.”
Ritter’s impact goes far beyond his cartoons and graphic design, agreed Laura Douglas-Brown, GA Voice co-founder and former editor.
“I could talk about Mike’s brilliance, his skill as a cartoonist and illustrator, his keen political wit — but this would barely touch the surface of who Mike was to so many,” Douglas-Brown said. “There simply are no words big enough for the man he was or the legacy he leaves behind.”
His best friends, Will Alford and Tim Messier, are in contact with the family and plans for a memorial will be announced as soon as more information is made available.
He was born Aug. 21, 1965, and his family includes five older sisters, a brother and his parents.
Ritter’s Facebook page has become a memorial tribute page from so many people who love him.
Political cartoonist Daryl Cagle has a nice write-up of Ritter, a friend, on his blog, noting that at one time he was deeply closeted and a registered Republican.
“Most notably was that Mike was an openly gay staff cartoonist at a mainstream daily newspaper in a harshly conservative state. According to former Editor & Publisher reporter Dave Astor, Mike was a former registered Republican, but as time went on his views became more and more libertarian,” Cagle wrote.
Also, fellow cartoonist and good friend Clay Jones shares on his blog a story about Ritter’s coming out story in his professional life.
“After Mike told me he was gay, he told me he wanted me to tell everyone. I felt I was given a mission to out him. I did not want that mission. Mike told me it was OK. He wanted to be outed and he didn’t want to do it himself. I refused the request because I didn’t want people down the line to say “well Clay Jones told me this story.” Maybe Mike told me because he thought I had a big mouth. I made it a point not to out him and then I went and inadvertently outed him,” Jones wrote.
“I was visiting Los Angeles and I was in the offices of The Los Angeles Times visiting Michael Ramirez. We were in the midst of a conversation when Mike Ritter’s name came up and somewhere in there I related how Ritter wanted me to out him (I assumed by this point everyone knew). This was several months after Mike had confided in me (don’t know if “confided” is the right word since he wanted to be out, but didn’t want to do it himself). Ramirez was in shock and immediately picked up his phone and called Ritter. I’m screaming no but Ramirez gets on the phone and asks Ritter, ‘are you gay? Clay just told me this.’ Ritter laughed and said yes and then the three of us, on a speaker phone had a 20 minute conversation.”
Jones then wrote, “A few years later we’re all in D.C. at a convention and Ritter being gay isn’t just public knowledge, it’s a ‘who gives a shit?’ He was our friend. At a cartoonists convention liberals and conservatives aren’t just friends, they’re the best of friends (I’ve actually seen more animosity from liberals to liberals and conservatives to conservatives). Mike, as usual, is the center of attention in any room he’s in. To say I was his friend isn’t a bragging point. He was a friend to everyone. Everyone loved Mike.” And for the rest of this very Mike Ritter story, including visiting several gay bars, you’ll have to read Jones’ blog directly.
Some of his great cartoons for the GA Voice are below and others can be seen by clicking here :