Mike Ritter, a Washington Blade contributor and art director for the LGBT newspaper GA Voice in Atlanta, died shortly after midnight on Sunday, March 30. He was 48.
He was admitted to 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 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 and he was an occasional Blade contributor, including work on several colorful and memorable front covers.
“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.