The evolution of outrage, by Mike Gold
Running Press Book Publishers released a 1,200 page, 15 pound tome called The Completely MAD Don Martin, reprinting all the work Don Martin did for Mad Magazine, back when in the days Mad was a force to be reckoned with.
That means it upset our parents.
That function must necessarily pass from one venue to another. Mad pretty much owned that turf from its inception in 1954 until the mid-60s. It passed on to its own children: the underground cartoonists. They, in turn, begat Matt Groening. Remember when The Simpsons was going to bring down civilization as we knew it – you know, 18 seasons ago? Then Mike Judge and Beavis and Butthead were going to burn your house down. South Park was too obscene for late-night cable teevee. As Kurt Vonnegut (another candidate for this list) famously said: So it goes.
I first encountered Don Martin when I was eight years old: my sister had discovered Mad and I had discovered my sister’s comics stash. Whereas his artistic style was in the spirit of the time, sort of Virgil Partch crossed with Basil Wolverton, his intrinsic bizarreness leapt off the page and attached itself to my obdula oblongata. It shaped my worldview… which probably explains a lot.
The feature was called “The Paper-Pickers” and it was about two sanitation workers picking up scrap in the park. One is a virtuoso of his craft who can spear paper with aplomb. The other is jealous. Why, I don’t know. The virtuoso is doing all the work; the other guy is just taking a walk on a nice summer day. But the competitive spirit prevails, and the also-ran flips out, spears the virtuoso to death and stuffs him in his refuse bag with a smile of evil satisfaction that would frighten Hannibal Lecter after a nice meal.
It was the funniest thing I had seen in my young life. Of course, this was a year before Rocky and His Friends debuted. The gag was slightly funny in an extremely warped way, but it looked absolutely hilarious. It was the art that made it funny – and therein lurked the secret of Don Martin.
As Mark Evanier pointed out in his brilliant history Mad Art, after the artist’s initial years at the magazine editor Al Feldstein started hiring ghost-writers for Don. Without taking anything away from the efforts of such gifted collaborators as Don Edwing (noted by Mark as the most frequent writer), it was still Don Martin’s work. It was the art that was “the funny;” the writing and the situation were merely the excuse.
Martin left Mad twenty years ago in a dispute with publisher Bill Gaines. By that time he was virtually blind and suffered from a highly unsteady hand – his latter work at Cracked just didn’t look the same. But the 30 years he spent at Mad were priceless.
Don Martin died in 2000. Of course, that was a shame and a great loss, but I’m saddened that he didn’t live to see this amazing tribute to his work. I can’t help but wonder if Don’s first thought might have been this: “I wonder if this 15 pound book will fall off the shelf and brain its owner.”
Mike Gold is editor-in-chief of ComicMix.