the don and roadkill irrelevance: it could be you

by Jesse Marinoff Reyes ( Jesse Marinoff Reyes Design, Maplewood, N.J.)

Don Martin (1931-2000), Part One!

… the wonderful and anarchic, Don Martin.

Stalwart of the seminal juvenile humor magazine, and spawn of (and the last survivor of) EC Comics. Founded by editor Harvey Kurtzman and publisher William Gaines in 1952, Kurtzman lead a creative team that included the likes of EC mainstays John Severin, Wally Wood, Will Elder, and Jack Davis. When Kurtzman left in 1957, the new editor Al Feldstein brought in new talent who joined the ranks as long-time staffers who continued MAD’s influence on American humor: Frank Jacobs, Antonio Prohias, Dave Berg, Mort Drucker, and Don Martin.

JMR Design.

Don Martin, featured here on this special issue’s cover (yes, bound-in to the issue is a large sheet of perforated lick-and-stick stickers each with a Don Martin gag—that I will post shortly as “Part Two!) and often billed as “MAD’s MADdest artist,” was as much a part of the magazine’s identity as Alfred E. Neuman himself. MAD published dozens of pocket paperback reprints of the magazine over the years (over 100 going into the 2000s) with several built around Don Martin in particular. It was over royalties Martin felt he was owed by publisher Gaines—over $1M over the years—that lead Martin to break with MAD in 1987 (Gaines had claimed that artists were paid for any and all usage up front, essentially work-for-hire). He joined MAD’s chief rival, Cracked for six years, then left that to launch his own short-lived Don Martin magazine.

Martin suffered from a degenerative eye condition—making him functionally blind—but still continued his work well into the 1990s using special magnifying equipment. My old pal and colleague Art Chantry, while art director of The Rocket, hired Martin to illustrate one of that magazine’s Christmas covers in that decade. It was just as funny and crazy and deft as his greatest work in MAD.

Whether Don Martin at MAD or Jack Kirby at Marvel, the history of comics highway is sadly littered with roadkill of the medium’s most talented and influential creatives who gave us so much pleasure and inspiration in our formative years. The industry really owed Don Martin much, much more than he got from them and we are the lesser for it. We see much the same echoes in our own corners of the industry whether it be the aging designer who gets “let go” from a situation before retirement, or that the computing industry seeks to make us irrelevant with do-it-yourself software, or a “client” who “crowd-sources.” These are all manifestations of the same impulse, to devalue the artist and his contribution, so don’t laugh at the importance I place on the fate of someone like Don Martin. It could be you.

MAD Special, No. 10, 1973 issue
Illustration: Don Martin
Icon illustration: (likely) Norman Mingo
Art Director: John Putnam

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