Mike Rit­ter: 1965-2014

Mike Rit­ter changed our lives for­ever and his legacy lives on in our hearts and his craft

GA Voice - - Front Page - By DYANA BAGBY dbagby@the­gavoice.com

GA Voice art di­rec­tor, award win­ning car­toon­ist fought for LGBT equal­ity with wit and wis­dom, one ra­zor-sharp il­lus­tra­tion at a time.

Mike Rit­ter did not like nee­dles. Nor­mally, this is some­thing I would not know. We worked to­gether. Some­times we so­cial­ized to­gether, but mostly our re­la­tion­ship was a beau­ti­ful, lov­ing, some­times frus­trat­ing, but al­ways col­lab­o­ra­tive ef­fort to get the GA Voice out ev­ery two weeks.

When we were in the ER and the doc­tors and nurses were try­ing to fig­ure out what was caus­ing his pain, they gave him a mor­phine drip and IV and took blood. He asked me to hold his hand and look into his eyes ev­ery time his arm was poked. He told me his fa­ther, a doc­tor, would line up him, his brother and five sis­ters ev­ery year and give them their flu shots. “I hated it,” he said. My heart ached for him. Late in the night, when he was fi­nally in a room in the ER, a specialist came in to ask him some ques­tions. I was stand­ing at the end of the bed when the doc­tor asked him who I was. Mike said, “My boss.” I an­swered, “His friend.”

I never saw my­self as Mike’s boss. He was the art di­rec­tor. I was the edi­tor. He ex­celled at his craft and I would of­ten ask for in­put on what I should do as part of mine. And he was al­ways hon­est and en­cour­ag­ing. We, along with Patrick Saun­ders, our deputy edi­tor, truly made a great team.

It takes a spe­cial tem­per­a­ment to be an art di­rec­tor. Any­one in this po­si­tion is the last one to see the copy and then are tasked with im­me­di­ately lay­ing it out and mak­ing it all fit into the al­lot­ted space in­clud­ing se­lect­ing nice fonts and ways to make the pho­tos fit for some­thing that is pleas­ing to the eye.

Mike rel­ished do­ing this work. He would take great pains to make a lay­out for a cover story in par­tic­u­lar look daz­zling, while also mak­ing sure it helped to tell the story in­cluded in the words. He par­tic­u­larly loved the chance to de­sign artis­tic cov­ers.

For our spring pre­view is­sue, his last cover, he used a photo of a bloom­ing tree that he pho­tographed near his apart­ment. He loved spring in At­lanta, he noted in his last Face­book post. That tree is also the cover photo for his Face­book page, now filled with ac­co­lades from hun­dreds of friends in­clud­ing a trib­ute from Pulitzer-prize win­ning car­toon­ist Steve Benson. He de­picts Mike at a draw­ing board with per­haps his most fa­mous cartoon drawn af­ter Sept. 11.

When he saw our spring is­sue at our last staff meet­ing to­gether—Chris Cash, Tim Boyd and Patrick—he ab­so­lutely glowed. The col­ors in all the im­ages had turned out per­fectly, he said. He noted he spent ex­tra time en­sur­ing the col­ors would trans­fer cor­rectly. This was three days be­fore he died.

This week’s is­sue is our wed­ding is­sue. Mike was pas­sion­ate about the fight for mar­riage equal­ity and, as an aca­demic and ac­tivist, he read ev­ery sin­gle word of the Wind­sor de­ci­sion and read ev­ery de­tailed opin­ion that came out af­ter by judges who con­tinue to rule in fa­vor of our right to marry the per­son we love. Patrick and I would of course be happy we scored an­other vic­tory in the courts, but Mike’s eyes lit up when he de­scribed the lan­guage used in the opin­ions, of­ten email­ing or recit­ing to us spe­cific pas­sages. Ev­ery opin­ion and rul­ing that comes out now in our fa­vor won’t be the same with­out him.

Mike loved work­ing at the GA Voice. I think all of us, past and present staff and those of us who also knew him from the old South­ern Voice days where we also saw his ex­per­tise with car­toons and il­lus­tra­tions, can take peace in know­ing this. He was do­ing work he loved with people who he loved and loved him. And he was do­ing it for a news­pa­per with a mis­sion he be­lieved in.

Mike was a true news­pa­per man. The out­pour­ing of emo­tion that came when people learned he died was im­me­di­ate and overwhelming. We knew Mike was a very tal­ented car­toon­ist. It was tra­di­tion to gather around the desk of Bo Shell, our for­mer art di­rec­tor, when­ever Mike emailed the GA Voice his new cartoon back in the days when he was still draw­ing and we howl to­gether at whomever was un­for­tu­nate to make it into his sights that week. And we were al­ways blown away by his ge­nius, tech­nique, skill. All of it.

While Mike touched so many lives and gained the re­spect of so many news­pa­per people here in Ge­or­gia, it came as a won­der­ful sur­prise to see how many more he touched across the coun­try. Mike never boasted about his nu­mer­ous ac­com­plish­ments as a na­tion­ally syn­di­cated car­toon­ist when he lived in Ari­zona. He was hum­ble and per­haps hum­bled, fo­cused on do­ing his best in Ge­or­gia.

Oh, Mike. I’m glad you con­sid­ered me your boss, but more im­por­tantly, I was your friend.

Mike’s fam­ily asks do­na­tions be made to The John Rit­ter Foun­da­tion for Aor­tic Health/ John Rit­ter Re­search Pro­gram in Aor­tic and Vas­cu­lar Dis­eases (www.john­rit­ter­foun­da­tion.org) or Free­dom to Marry (www.free­dom­tomarry. org), the cam­paign to win mar­riage equal­ity na­tion­wide.

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