Thirteen years ago today saw the passing of one of the strangest, highly creative, and most gleefully insane cartoonists in the mediums broad and rich history, one Don Martin, whose wacky, off-center, and superbly memorable cartoons graced the pages of Mad Magazine for much for that publications heyday.
The style of Martin’s work was instantly recognizable, his characters had bombastic traits about their physicality, huge noses and feet, and borrowed heavily from and also acted as a drawn homage to the broadest, wildest forms of inane, surreal, and crazy slapstick and all its slapdash manifestations. Martin coupled this with a technique he pretty much pioneered, the usage of sound effects created in Martin’s own language, utilizing an onomatopoetic approach to them, which were at once ridiculous and hilarious, examples being “Blib, Blib, Blib, Blib,” which emulated the sounds of the whirling blades on a helicopter, to a car shifting gears to the wild strains of “Brak Brak” to the altogether startlingly original and wackiness of “Fluk, Groon, Groon, Splazitch, Spalzatch,” which illustrated the noise of a vending machine that put check marks onto luggage. These examples here just scratch the surface of Martin’s warped, genius mind, and he arguably became the lightest light in Mad, a strong statement considering the creative gene pool at the magazine during its peak years was full of artists and writers who were all in a higher class of surreal insanity at their respective crafts.
Martin not only dabbled in his one-panels, which borderlined on bizarre, almost psychotic multiple frames which told a story as strange as anything, with denouements usually culminating with punchlines eccentric, outlandish, and freakish, yet always screamingly funny and always leaving the audience wanting more. The style of Martin in a way stood out all by itself; it was like the comedy Dan Ackroyd had created on the original Saturday Night Live. The old wives tale regarding the general consensus of Ackroyd’s talents on the show was that nobody ever felt jealous or in competition with his wild, original sprawling also odd-ball style in his writing and acting on the program, because everyone felt he was such a true original; there was no competing with such a type of personality. The same holds true with Don Martin, and again, as wild and crazy as the works of Mad Magazine’s Al Jaffee, Paul Coker, Paul Peter Porges, and Don “Duck” Edwing was and is, the works of Don Martin still stand alone. He really was a genuine, bonafide version of the old cliche “one of a kind.” In fact, the original co-founder/creator and eventual publisher of Mad Magazine, the late William S. Gaines, mentioned more than once that he felt Don Martin was truly the magazine’s most original talent, and the moniker “Mad’s Maddest Artist” was firmly affixed to Martin and remained that way, even when Martin (who was an extremely private person his personal life) had ghost writers, such as the aforementioned “Duck” Edwing, write his pieces. Even during that time, the Martin visual style still held court over anything else in the magazine.
He left Mad Magazine bitterly in the mid-1980s (he felt he was chiseled and cheated on royalties owed him in upwards of one million dollars from Gaines, due to the successful sale of Mad paperbacks which showcased the work of Martin and many other Mad artists and writers) and jumped ship to Cracked Magazine, the imitative humor magazine that struggled to find its own identity for many years, living in the shadow of Mad, although that magazine too, had a good, solid contingent of irreverent humor scribes and cartoonists. Today, Cracked is an altogether different kind of magazine, a somewhat contemporary National Lampoon, which has slight successful flourishes via its online website. But back in the 1980s, it had Martin in its stables for a while, and although the addition of Martin still couldn’t bring it to surpass the national credibility and humorous standards set by Mad, it was nice to see the man still working. He also had his own magazine for a while as well, and eventually had a degenerative eye condition that forced him to adjust his approach to his cartooning, using specialized magnifying equipment which enabled him to continue working. He died of cancer in Florida on January 6, 2000.
So let today be a remembrance of the late, great Don Martin, bizarro genius cartoonist, ludicrous way-out, pioneer odd-ball who created works of art the likes of which were never seen before, and without question, will never been seen again. Let the bells ring for Don Martin all day today! Can you hear them? There they are, going “Glangadang, Galoon, Glong, Gadong!”