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Don Martin

Donald "Don" Martin (May 18 1931January 6 2000) was an American cartoon artist whose best-known work appeared in MAD magazine from 1956 to 1988.

Early years

Don Martin was born on May 18 1931 in Paterson, New Jersey. He studied Illustration and Fine Art at Newark's Fine Arts and Industrial Arts College between 1949 and 1951, and subsequently graduated from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia in 1952. In 1953, he worked briefly as a window trimmer and frame maker, before taking on a role providing paste ups and mechanicals for various offset printing clients and beginning his career as freelance cartoonist and illustrator. Martin's work first appeared in MAD in September 1956.

Career with MAD Magazine

Martin often was billed as "MAD's Maddest Artist." Whereas other features in MAD, recurring or otherwise, typically were headed with pun-filled "department" titles, Martin's work always was headed with only his name—"Don Martin Dept."—further fanfare presumably being unnecessary. At his peak, each issue of MAD typically carried three Martin strips of one or two pages each.

Although Martin's contributions invariably featured outrageous events and sometimes outright violations of the laws of space-time, his strips typically had unassuming generic titles such as "A Quiet Day in the Park" or "One Afternoon at the Beach". In one four-panel gag, titled "One Night in the Miami Bus Terminal," a man approaches a machine labelled "CHANGE." He inserts a dollar bill and the machine changes him into a woman. In another gag, a man is flattened by a steamroller, but is saved by the timely intervention of concerned passersby, who folds him into a paper airplane and throws him towards the nearest hospital.

Martin, who was a member of both the National Cartoonists Society and "GAG", the Graphic Artists Guild, was regarded as a quiet man who enjoyed relaxing on the beach near his home in Miami (from which he would send his work in to the MAD offices in New York City). Reportedly, he liked slipping into the backgrounds of photographs tourists would take of each other, so when their films were developed they would wonder who the strange man was. Fellow MAD contributor Sergio Aragonés had the same impish habit.

Style and technique

Martin's immediately recognizable drawing style (which featured bulbous noses, and the famous "hinged foot") was loose, rounded, and filled with broad slapstick. His inspirations, plots and themes were often bizarre and at times bordered on the berserk. In his earliest years with MAD, Martin used a more jagged, scratchy line. But his style evolved, settling into its familiar form by 1964. It was typified by a sameness in the appearance of the characters (the punchline to a strip often was emphasized by a deadpan take with eyes half open and the mouth absent) and by an endless capacity for newly coined, onomatopoetic sound effects, such as "BREEDEET BREEDEET" for a croaking frog or "FAGROON klubble klubble" for a collapsing building. His characters often had ridiculous, rhyming names such as Fester Bestertester, Fonebone (which was expanded to Freenbean I. Fonebone in at least one strip), or Lance Parkertip, Noted Notary Public. In this middle period he created some of his absurdist classics- for example "National Gorilla Suit Day"- in which a hapless suburbanite is repeatedly assaulted by (inter alia) a gorilla dressed in various disguises.

His work probably reached its peak of quality and technical detail in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In later years, particularly during the 1980s, he let other people write most of his gags, most notably Duck Edwing.

Break with MAD

In his last years of working with MAD, Martin had a falling out with publisher William Gaines over royalties for the "MAD Books": paperback compilations of older MAD articles and cartoons released under new omnibus titles, like The Self-Made Mad. Gaines insisted that he had paid the cartoonists for both their publication in MAD and all future reprints in any format. Martin did not agree, claiming at one point that he had likely lost over a million dollars in royalties because of this perceived "flat rate" for this work. Martin later testified before a Congressional subcommittee on the rights of freelance artists.

With bad blood flowing in both directions, Martin left MAD in 1987. His last contribution to MAD appeared in issue #277 of March 1988 ("One Special Day in the Dungeon", written by Antonio Prohias). Not long afterwards, he began cartooning for the rival humor publication Cracked, which tweaked its larger competitor by billing Martin as "Cracked's Crackedest Artist." After six years with Cracked, Martin parted company with the magazine in 1993. A year later, he launched his own short-lived publication, Don Martin Magazine. This included reprints from some of his MAD paperbacks to which he still retained copyrights.

Despite a degenerative eye condition, Martin continued to draw into the 1990s using special magnifying equipment. He died of cancer in Miami, Florida, in 2000, aged 68.

Awards and honors

Martin was honored with the Ignatz Award at the Orlando Comicon in 1980 and the National Cartoonists Society's Special Features Award in both 1981 and 1982, and was inducted into the Comic Book Hall of Fame in 2004.

His cartoons appear in public collections held at both the National Cartoonists Society and Ohio State University, and he served as a juror at "Hürriyet Vakfi," an International Cartoon Competition held in Ankara, Turkey in 1986.

Influence on popular culture

In 1986, the animated feature Don Martin Does It Again was created in Germany by director Andy Knight, and produced by Gerhard Hahn's Deutsche Zeichentrick Erste Produktions GmbH & Co. KG. It won first prize at the 1986 International Children’s Film Festival in Chicago.

In episode #307 - "The Day the Earth Stood Stupid" (2001) - of Matt Groening's science-fiction animated television series Futurama, lead character Hermes Conrad mentions a planet called "Don Martin 3" that went "kerflooey", a homage to one of Martin's sound effects. (Indeed, Martin himself owned a vanity licence plate which read "SHTOINK," patterned after one of his famed "onomatopoeic" sound effects.)

In 2007, a two-volume hardcover box set of his complete MAD Magazine work was published by Running Press.

In the "Stranded in Space" episode of TV's Mystery Science Theater 3000 (show 305), the invention exchange involved various visual weapon sound effects (eg., a gun with a flag which pops out, bearing the sound effect "BANG!"). In this case, a stick of dynamite was lighted, producing a banner reading "KACHOW". This promped a rejoinder from Dr. Forrester: "Kachow? Kachow?! What, is Don Martin working with you guys now?!"

See also


  • Don Martin Steps Out (1961)
  • Don Martin Bounces Back (1963)
  • Don Martin Drops 13 Stories (1965)
  • Adventures of Captain Klutz (1967)
  • Don Martin Cooks up More Tales (1969)
  • Don Martin Comes on Strong (1971)
  • Don Martin Carries On (1973)
  • The Completely Mad Don Martin (1974)
  • Don Martin Steps Further Out (1975)
  • Don Martin Forges Ahead (1977)
  • Don Martin Digs Deeper (1979)
  • Don Martin Grinds Ahead (1981)
  • Captain Klutz II (1973)
  • Don Martin Sails Ahead (1986)


External links

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