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Cartoonists remember Mike Ritter

The news of Mike Ritter has hit the AAEC community hard. Watching the outpouring on personal blogs, Twitter and Facebook has been inspiring. Not long after Mike came out of the closet, he dropped off the radar ceasing all contact with friends and his past life in Arizona and resurfaced in Georgia. From reports, a lot of individuals tried to reach out to him over the years, some connecting recently through Facebook, but for the most part, Mike “rebooted” his life in Georgia and didn’t look back.

One of the cartoonists who knew him best was Arizona Republic’s Steve Benson who knew Mike for several years as a friend and who’s work appeared in competing newspapers.

Mike was one of the most creative, passionate, talented, high-energy person I have known. He was stuck in this wasteland, an intellectual trailer park full of old retired people and Mormons called Mesa AZ. He was angry, but in a good way. He was out of his element. He was politically conservative and socially liberal. The explanation for that was his own journey of who he was. Even though he was a conservative, he railed against the primitive conservatives in the state.

He was an incredible singer. He could do a spot-on Bing Crosby. He had a velvet voice. Not many people saw that side of him.

Editor’s note: Video of Mike singing show tunes is available here. Clearly, add singing to his list of talents.

We talked a lot of his personal journey. In his final years, he tried to connect with his father. His father blamed himself for Mike?s orientation. Mike tried to repair that relationship and help his father understand that?s just the way he was.

He was very passionate and intense. When he got overwhelmed, he?d go into his cave. That?s not to say he couldn?t handle things, but he knew himself well enough to know that when he needed to disappear, he would. It was like working on a car. If he wanted to work on his personal inner car, he just went into the garage and shut everyone out and did his thing. In the end, he did that ? for years. People would try to ping him and he wouldn?t ping back. He passed up a job opportunity in Detroit. He saw an opportunity in Georgia and moved and didn?t look back. He didn?t do it out of spite. He just started a new life with his choices and didn?t look back.

He was a Shakespearean tragedy. He took the reality of his own truth very seriously. It overwhelmed him. He took it into his soul and it caused depression. But, ironically, that depression fueled in him great professional highs, but it would also drag him down into his own Mariana Trench. He had to find a way to deal with his realities. He?d often bottle it up or just leave. In the end, that?s what he did. He left.

Steve will be publishing a tribute cartoon to Mike in tomorrow’s AZ Republic.

Chicago Tribune’s Scott Stantis

My wife, Janien, and I were lucky enough to know Mike and consider him a good friend. He was brilliant. Speaking on politics, economics or ethics he was well read and well reasoned. We would talk often about many things. As he came out he faced difficulty in his family, particularly his demanding German father. (Whenever I hear the phrase “German father” I assume the “demanding” part goes without saying). Mike had his demons and they seemed to be getting the better of him. I worried. After losing his job in Arizona he moved to Atlanta for a reboot. He stayed with us in our home in Birmingham before moving on. It was a joy to have him around but we still worried. Mike withdrew when the move was complete. I kept up with him only sporadically. Perhaps he didn’t want a reminder of his past life. From what I was able to glean, he put his life in order and lived among a supportive community that loved him.

Mike had a magnificent sense of humor. A sharp and penetrating mind. As I mentioned on Facebook, the world is a lesser place without Mike in it. His was a gentle soul.

Ted Rall has posted samples of a strip he and Mike collaborated on called Urbana around 2003. Mike’s artwork was aces as the samples show. Click through to see more.

Clay Jones tells a couple of stories about his friendship with Mike.

I remember hanging with Mike at a cartoonist convention in Chattanooga and really hating how incredible his artwork was. The man was an artist with talent greater than most. I was afraid he was better than me in a time I was very competitive. To make matters worse, Mike was charming, funny, could tell a story and seemed to have more friends and garner more respect than most and to make matters worse, he was better looking than I. When he came out I thought “thank God we?ll never compete for a girl.”

More sentiments are being poured out on Facebook and Twitter.

Community Comments

#1 Frank M Hansen
@ 6:01 pm

Wow. This guy had serious all around talent. The whole thing is so sad and makes you put it all into context of your own life.

#2 scott barnes
@ 9:34 pm

I met mike just a few months before he and the trib parted ways, I actually lived with him and we became good friends. I did not see mike as disconnected from his friends or even depressed! He took interest in learning how to do stained glass work and with his artistic ability he quickly became a pro! Mike picked up a stack of small ceramic tiles and he saw something I did not and even though he explained in detail what he thought he could make with tile, I just giggled and said OK…impossible task but I have no doubt you will create a tile masterpiece! So within a few days he came to me and said look I told you it would work…. With a coping saw blade mike had flawlessly cut out 10 ceramic spirals all exactly the same! I was now able to see and piece together what he was going to create. When I asked him what motivated or gave him inspiration to design this tile artwork he laughed and said this Deco lamp shade… For months mike cut and cut those tiles and he always had bing playing he of course would sing along but he was by no means depressed. He did stop making cartoons for awhile but politics moved him and when he saw something worthy in the news he would go to that desk and make cartoons… Mike was never dull and if he was with you he was not satisfied unless you were smiling… Its sad to think about him passing away but we talked about death and he promised to find bing and then of course haunt me….. I am waiting mike…. You know how much I truly enjoyed bing…right…if only I could hear ya sing once more….

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