Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Is This A Work Of Cartoon Genius?

I must be one of the world's biggest cartoon fans, but rarely do I find a cartoon that I think is brilliant. Something that covers all the great things a cartoon can do that separates it from other forms of entertainment. I think this Don Martin comic meets and exceeds the highest cartoon criteria.

First, it's drawn funny. Really funny - and in a totally unique style. I love the early Martin stuff best because it hadn't found a formula yet. It's still searching and so has less rules and more variety.
The concept of the story is really funny. The people are generic (for Martin's world) but still bizarre - and meant to be typical normal humans. That whole approach is so unique in itself! We're supposed to instantly identify with these everyday normal people that only exist in Don Martin's world.
Martin is presenting a gag and story that couldn't possibly be done as well in any other medium- including animation.
The gag is built around a growing crowd. Crowds don't work in animation. Imagine the amount of time it took to draw just one of these crazy panels. Now multiply that by 24 frames a second for film. Then having to animate each of these characters doing something somewhat different than each other - as is indicated in the poses. This would not only take Herculean labor, it would also be totally wasted because all the stuff would fly by so fast you couldn't take it all in. With still pictures, you can slowly go through the panel and see every funny detail.
These birds are stylized and hilarious at the same time. They work both as a group, and as individuals. You can stare at each of these panels forever and find humor within the overall gag situation and in the minute details. Each little character is drawn with thought. Martin didn't just draw a ton of birds in the same pose.
The gag builds to more and more heights of preposterousness. It is structured.
Goddamn, these are some weird creatures! What a mind!

I love the crazy eagerness of the human characters eating the delicious popcorn.
Nice stubbly chicken butt.

The frenzy keeps on building, even when you think it can't get more nutty.



Wouldn't you kill to have this painted as a mural on your wall?

And of course he ends on a morbid joke, because he is aiming this at little kids to get them in trouble with their Moms. This psychology makes the comic even funnier.A masterpiece of inspired and original cartooning!

One more thought: Don Martin doesn't design his humans to keep up to date with what is supposed to be "cool" or hip. No 'tude. His characters exist in a timeless world so that anyone can identify with their situations. The fact that they are so uncool makes it all the more pure and inviting. We know he isn't trying to talk down to us, like so many cartoons today made by nerds who are trying to be cool.

38 comments:

Steve Carras said...

I almost thought that the pigeons were gonna poop from eating all of that popcorn...

Jake Thomas said...

That was amazing. Every panel it got better and better and leaves you with this feeling like you got away with doing something bad. Awesome.

Kerssido said...

I did not see that ending coming. That's my favourite kind of ending!

lastangelman said...

.... this comic was inspired by Tom Lehrer's classic "Poisoning Pigeons In The Park". Don Martin took the idea of Lehrer's proud pigeon poisoner and gave it a twist that only he can.

Fulle Circle Productions said...

I love Don Martin! I wish I would have kept all of my Cracked magazines that I had growing up, he was cartooning for them when I was into it. It's a shame that Cracked became what it is today.

mike f. said...

Some other classic elements at play here, besides the ones you already mentioned.

CONTRAST: Between shapes, between moods, between movement and attitude. The overall contrast between chaos and a deadpan central character adds to the gag.

INCONGRUITY: Same thing as contrast, but even more caricatured. The essence of cartooning - and of visual comedy in general.

RHYTHM and TIMING: Carefully controlled tension builds to a preposterous - but still logical - conclusion.

BELIEVABILITY: We "buy" it because Martin "sells" it, by taking us through it step by step.

INEVITABILITY: the fatal essence of black comedy

READABILITY: The main character "reads" perfectly in every panel, due to Martin's sound sense of composition and his careful, deliberate spotting of blacks. None of this is accidental.

WEIRDNESS: Well...

BTW Lastangelman, Dilbert is a complete piece of shit. Just sayin'.

Kali Fontecchio said...

I remember when you first showed me this, I was laughing out loud! Which I rarely do in with comics, unfortunately.

Ebbe said...

That is absolutely amazing. I've been a Don Martin fan since the first time I picked up a MAD magazine, so seeing this early comic is a real treat.

A nice detail I noticed is how the crazed murderer alternates between panels from having his hand down the sack to throwing popcorn on the ground. Its like Martin is animating in the comic, and makes the action very clear even as the madness builds.

Will said...

HAHA thats great, made me laugh, and thats what cartoons should do. i was sadened by the greed of the crazy people rushing the poor guy and i saw a picture of pure greed told with humor, and that made the end where they all got theirs so much funnier.
thanx john =)

Chetan Trivedi said...

haha this is soo funny.

SuperHappy said...

John, don't get me wrong, I mean, I love don martin a lot. a LOT. He does sound effects that only his genius mind can concoct. When I draw comic I often find myself making vain attempts to try to make my ow unique sound effects much the same way he did.

But I'm wondering if there's some artist out there you admire who was born sometime after 1950, whose skills you find admirable, and isn't female. There's got to be at least one. If so, make a journal entry about it, 'cause I'd like to hear about it.

crazeziggity said...

"nerds trying to be cool" sounds a certain Mr. Vasquez to me...

Classic panel!

Rick Roberts said...

That is so f****ed up it's hilarous. A little girl was there, that was dark. XD

Alberto said...

"We know he isn't trying to talk down to us, like so many cartoons today made by nerds who are trying to be cool."
That's so true, that's the bad thing when frustrated people get some power!
Didactic artistic products are not so cool to me, There must be art for art's sake...
I have one question, are these panels drawn using structure, or is structure only necessary when you want a character to be easy recognized or animated?
I bet all this characters are done using the very basic structure and to be drawn only for that strip.

Jack said...

Yeah that wasn't very funny.

Rick Roberts said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Franky said...

I hate pigeons too.

Thanks again, John.

JPilot said...

"like so many cartoons today made by nerds who are trying to be cool."

Like a bunch of "Fonzies" hovering over the shark, frozen up there for eternity with those waterskis and the leather jacket...
and the thumb...HEYYYYYY!!!!

Caleb said...

To answer the titles question; yes, genius. The man's face seems expressionless at first, but there also seems to be a slight enjoyment since he knows what's going to happen.

C. A. M. Thompson said...

Somebody should make Don Martin toys. I'd like to have a huge 3-dimensional statue of one of the dead guys in the last panel.

Adam T said...

This is good social commentary. It's not preachy. He's showing and not telling.

This is so much better than Doonesbury or Dilbert whose creators don't have the artistic chops to get their message across without using text bubbles.

Elana Pritchard said...

good post!

Thomas said...

I remember a Don Martin cartoon from the 60's of a hippy having a bowl of soup, then wringing out his beard and having a second bowl. It was a hippy, but a Don Martin hippy. It was like hippy drag.
Its easy to imagine a hipster Don Martin cartoon.

MLP said...

I think Martin's exercises in black humor were just the greatest stuff. He had a unique knack for drawing funny and unsettling at the same time. An exemplar were his illustrations to Longfellow's sappy poem, "The Children's Hour", which never fails to remind me of the Raymond Chandler quote "It is not funny that a man should be killed, but it is sometimes funny that he should be killed for so little."

But some time in the late 1950s (I think), Martin seemed to shift away from black humor (as in the pigeon strip here) toward unbridled hilarity (as in the tuba strip of a few days ago). From that time on, even when his jokes were based on pain and death (as they usually were for Bestertester), the drawing and situation were so light-heartedly absurd that the cartoon was never disturbing in the least. We didn't exactly get shortchanged by this shift, but I've long wondered why he moved away from black comedy when he had such a flair for it.

Whit said...

Don Martin was a hell of a lot funnier than the many poseurs making careers aping Charles Addams and Edward Gorey. When a really funny artist adds dark to the recipe it packs a meatier punch than one merely posing as dark.

Zoran Taylor said...

Other cartoonist playing a competitive betting game with Don Martin: "Hitchcock's The Birds....in the style oooffff.....Picasso's Guernica. FIVE HUNDRED BIG ONES says you can't do it!"

Don Martin: *Clint squint* "Buddy, you have no idea what you're getting yourself into...."

Thomas said...

John- If you look at it one way, Don Martin doesn't fit in at all with the idea of specific character (recent Johnnny Hart post) . In fact, the characters in Martin could be described as clones, even inter- species clones. On the other hand, using a serial killer character in the pigeon cartoon, which you could look t as the acme of individualism to the point of parody, as revenge against the Clone-dom that the characters inhabit. They're, or we're all pigeons he seems to be saying.

Rick Roberts said...

"This is good social commentary. It's not preachy. He's showing and not telling."

The problem with alot cartoons and comics today. The characters just feel like empty shells and they are simply there to spew the writers' political or social agendas.

M. R Darbyshire said...

Believe it or not, there's a man named Don Martin who looks like a Don Martin character!

http://www.education.pitt.edu/images/employees/DonMartin.jpg

DSX said...

"Tude" is an actual human expression. Why would you tell people not to use it? It exists. People over using it is one thing but saying not to use it ever is strange.

Rick Roberts said...

Thomas-

I think Martin is the exception to the rule about characterization because like Tex Avery he uses a specific human trait and exploits it for all it's humor.

lastangelman said...

say mike, just for my edification, could you elaborate on why you believe Dilbert is in your words a complete piece of shit.
You're an intelligent articulate guy, you know comedy, you know funny and you know comics and cartoons.
One can't make such a sweeping absolute statement without a little back up.

Ivan D said...

I've been going through the "Complete Cartoons of the New Yorker" recently and I've noticed that O.Soglow seems to contain many similar qualities to Don Martin. There is an animated energy to their drawings and timelessness to their situations. I'm speaking specifically of O.Soglows non-"The Little King" work.

I wish there were more cartoonists that didn't just draw "hip" characters. And if you are going to make your character a wise ass, do it with style like Bugs Bunny or Woody Woodpecker not just some lame character with all the right "zingers" and "come backs."

introvert said...

"Tude" is an actual human expression. Why would you tell people not to use it? It exists. People over using it is one thing but saying not to use it ever is strange.

That's the thing about tude though. You have to tell people not to use it if you ever expect them to get it right. If they try to conciously utilize tude, then they can't help but start overusing it. Because you are thinking about tude instead of what you are drawing, all you are going to get is tude and nothing else. You don't invent tude, you invent drawings that might or might not have tude. If the drawing needs tude, then the drawing will have tude by the virtue of you being able to draw just what the drawing needs.

You aren't supposed to worry about tude, tude is supposed to come naturally. Thinking about it at all means you are already overthinking it.

BTW, is "tude" really an actual human expression? Because I felt really dumb using it as one when writing this comment.

Powli said...

I love the guy being flown in by the vulture in the 8th frame.

Niki said...

This is amazing and freakishly retarded at the same time! It gets so cramped but you can still find the poor guy! I bet you, any person today would fill it up with uncoordinated colors and everything would be bright and garish and you would see anything until the very end!

It gets me wondering why some folks don't just re-use the old comics from their magazine's archive. This is amazing but I can't stand MAD TV now.

M. R Darbyshire said...

"Tude" is an actual human expression.

Exactly.

Tude is just another human expression. It shouldn't become a style. Tude should be treated like everything else in its league.

You shouldn't 'use' expression as the foundation of a character.
Coup de grĂ¢ce of "generic character," that is!

Niki said...

Hay John! Do you know any other exceptionally good yet very dark cartoonist's or animators? Cause I just remembered a Don Martin cartoon that was actually animated! at the time I was young and into anime so I was "What the hell?!" but it was well made! Do you know anyone who makes really dark cartoons besides thew Fleischers and Don?