Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Don Martin's Pigeons are Coming

Don Martin must be one of the very few print cartoonists that can actually make you laugh out loud.

Most of the famous strips and comics are meant to give you a mild pleasurable feeling, maybe evoke a wry smile, but I can't think of a lot of them that cause belly laughs. I'm not sure why that is. Animated cartoons at one time aimed at making us laugh out loud. Comics that star animated characters don't aim at making you laugh at all, which is very curious. Bugs Bunny in the comics is a completely different personality in comic books and comic strips than on the screen. He's not even a wiseacre. Is there some law in comics that says you can't be as funny as your animated counterpart?

I think that every medium unconsciously develops an overall standard and set of expectations that differ from other mediums-even related ones. Every once in awhile, someone sneaks through the system and shatters all those expectations and invents something new. Then of course the comic editors and cartoon execs change the formula and look for new people who can copy the latest guy who changed the rules against their wills. This seems to be a rarer and rarer occurrence today. Comic strips are at the lowest standards of quality and entertainment expectations today. Editors must be more restrictive and conservative than ever.

I collect a lot of old time strips like Peanuts, B.C., Popeye and more. I read them over and over again and like them a lot. But they don't make me laugh out loud the way Tex Avery and Popeye cartoons do. Dennis The Menace did once in awhile when I was a kid.

You might think "well maybe it's harder to make something really funny without sound and movement." Don Martin disproves that theory. I wonder why he never got picked up for daily newspaper strips? Probably because he didn't fit the mold in the editors' minds.

Coming up...

20 comments:

Count Downe said...

Martin had a syndicated comic strip called "The Nutheads", but it was tame and watered down.

you can see one here:

http://www.jhalpe.com/collection/comicart.php?action=bymedium&medium_id=9&category_id=1

Cody Clarke said...

I was never much into comic books for that same reason of the characters not being funny as their animated counterparts, but I thought the Ren & Stimpy comics were pretty hilarious. The Choose Your Own Adventure one was my favorite.

Christine Gerardi said...

The only comic strips that make me laugh right now are Pearls Before Swine and Get Fuzzy.

Oscar Baechler said...

I know you're espousing a lot of love for these "golden age" comics, but as someone who grew up with Calvin & Hobbes, I've never been able to absorb Peanuts, et al, as a life-changing piece of entertainment. It was as if Calvin & Hobbes was in color and everyone else was in black and white. Any given day, you could almost guarantee that the physical humor trophy, the disgusting humor trophy, the imagination trophy, and for the literary crowd the philosophical/meaningful trophy were all going to the same strip. IT was as if every stip was given a double-dose of ritalin, and C&H was the strip that needed it the most.

A pity one of the only remaining parts of Calvin & Hobbes is unlicensed bumper stickers.

Anthony Rizzo said...

Does the Far Side count John? The one with the guy in hell whistling in hell always gets me :) Good call on Calvin and Hobbes. Good stuff there!

Rick Roberts said...

"I wonder why he never got picked up for daily newspaper strips?"

God forbid that thought. Martin is to Mad as Clampett is to Warners.

John S. said...

This is one of my all time favorite Don Martin pieces! I read this over and over as a kid! By the way, I loved your analysis of the BC characters.

mike f. said...

Is there some law in comics that says you can't be as funny as your animated counterpart?

There's an unwritten law in character licensing for consumer products that says so. It's unwritten - but it's real, all right.

Funny poses, outlandish situations and off-model expressions - all commonplace in animated cartoons - are strictly verboten. Executives prefer everything bland and generic. They believe anything more would be offensive to toddlers and grandmothers.

They use successful Disney marketing campaigns as an overall template. Arguments to the contrary tend to fall on deaf ears, because the suits can simply point to billion dollar cash cows like Winnie the Pooh and Princesses as licensing juggernauts. Any further discussion dies on the vine, and the cartoonists get thrown out of the meeting.

It's all in a day's work for your friendly neighborhood licensing executive.

Zoran Taylor said...

Speaking of C&H, look no further than <_a href=http://unmitigatedaudacity2.blogspot.com/2009/01/great-calvin-expressions.html_>this<_/a_>for some drawing which can actually GET LAUGHS. From me, at least. I honestly pity anyone who doesn't laugh at the chewing warmups (better enlarged) or the sneer.

Oliver_A said...

Don Martin achieves the best laughs because he actually is a master in building up jokes by using a very delicate scheme of timing. This is why his strips almost read like watching an actual cartoon. He knows how to bang the hammer on your head. ;)

Bob said...

Does zot mean God in BC caveman talk?

Oliver_A said...

Calvin & Hobbes is also one of my favourite strips, probably the last "real" comic strip published.

Here are all strips:

Calvin & Hobbes

Islam Guemey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
HemlockMan said...

In the case of Donald Duck, the Barks-written adventures, and the character of Donald, were far and away superior to anything from those damned cartoons. In the toons, Donald was a totally manic piece of crap who could not be understood at all, save by some of his movements.

Donald Duck the comic book character, written and illustrated by Barks, was a lucid, adventurous, resourceful person, appealing to both kids and folk with the hearts of kids. He was much funnier, too, than the cartoon Donald, although I must admit that's not hard to be.

I never knew that Don Martin had a syndicated strip! Wow!

lastangelman said...

I had to stop and think what comic strips in production today actually make me laugh out.
1.)Pearls Before Swine
2.)The first three years of Get Fuzzy (Darby Conley has been in an awful hit and mostly miss streak ever since)
3.)Dilbert (believe it or not - and he's getting funnier)

...Pearls and Dilbert, while very simplistic and bare bones drawings (thank you Charles Schultz)are well staged and well thought out. Darby Conley may know how to "draw" but he forgot how to stage his ideas. A lot of the slapstick vanished. Perhaps someone should send him some hand puppets.

Rick Roberts said...

HermlockMan:

I agree 1000%. Barks turned Donald into endearing and sympathetic character while keeping him humorous. In the cartoons he was still funny but he just an ass and not much more.

Brian Goss said...

Hey, JohnK, get Sergio Aragone's paperback called MAD as Hell if you don't already have it. It's laugh out loud funny all the way through. I love reading that and Don Martin Bounces Back...oh and Don Martin Steps Out. Hilarious stuff. :D

Doug said...

this man is a god

Severin said...

The Comics Code Authority probably had a big hand in affecting cartoon comic books, much in the same way superhero comics were completely changed.

Rick OzTown said...

For laughing out loud, I like Austin, Texas, artist, Sam Hurt's Eyebeam strips. He started out in the UT Daily Texan newspaper and graduated to many newspapers.

Starting with about this one and going right in the time line: http://eyebeam.com/toons/index.php?num=11

Then go to the main site and explore. His stuff is great!