Art by Don Martin
Written by Dick DeBartolo, Phil Hahn, Jack Hanrahan, and Don Martin.
Don Martin was always billed as "Mad's Maddest Artist." From his first appearance in Mad #29 in 1956, he stood out with his ultra-cartoony style and bizarre sense of humor. He filled his panels with long-nosed people whose feet bent as though they were on hinges and sound effects that had never been used in comics before, but which somehow fit the scene perfectly.*
Recently, Mad reprinted a deluxe two-volume set with every cartoon he did for the magazine, something I had to have (once I saw it for a ridiculously good bargain).** I did realize, though, that one things was missing: my favorite Don Martin book, The MAD Adventures of Captain Klutz.
This was a standalone book of original material, and if you're a fan of comics, you'll love this. The book was co-written by several MAD writers, most notably the great Dick DeBartolo. DeBartolo was to my mind the best writer in the magazine, best know for his TV and movie parodies.*** Though others are credited, the main stories of the book seem to me to have been mostly DeBartolo's work -- it's the same sort of voice as in his best parodies.
Captain Klutz is Ringo Fonebone, who grew up as an avid comic book fan**** who can't handle life. When he attempts to commit suicide by jumping off a building (in his long underwear), he ends up landing on a bank robber and stopping him for the police. The robber calls him a klutz and, when the police ask his name, the dazed hero says, "I'm a klutz, captain," which is immediately garbled into being called Captain Klutz.
The main adventures include the origin story, "Sissyman," "The Case of the Chicken Soup," "Captain Klutz Meets Gorganzola," and "Captain Klutz Meets Mervin the Mad Bomber." They are filled with slapstick and surprises. There are also a couple of short gag strips to fill things out.
The book was obviously a success, and there were even a couple of sequels. But it seems to have gone out of print. Martin left Mad in 1988 and continued cartooning elsewhere. He died in 2000.
I'm delighted that there is now a retrospective of his work in Mad (even if it is an expensive one), but I wish it had included the Don Martin books as well as the magazine. It would have made it all complete.
*An interesting sidelight is that before Martin established himself with MAD, he did art for science fiction pulp magazines. I was surprised to see a drawing in an old Galaxy Magazine that showed the trademarked hinged feet and style (for a story titled "Trader's Risk'). The artist was credited as "Martin." A further discussion of this sidelight to Don Martin's career can be found at the Datajunkie blog.
**As I read through it, I realized I realized that I had already seen nearly all of the cartoons. My Mad reading had paralleled Martin's career and those that appeared before I started were reprinted in various Mad books and annuals.
***In his day job, he wrote the questions for the TV game show The Match Game. He was billed as "Mad's Maddest Writer," but, really that honor goes to Larry Gore.
****Not unlike Herbie the Fat Fury, something I'd love to write about except for the fact that I know him solely by reputation.