by Beth C.
MAD’s Greatest Artists: Don Martin: Three Decades of His Greatest Works – Don Martin (Running Press)
First things first: I have to come clean. Don Martin’s amazingly distinct, wacky, sometimes surreal, and always clever art never graced the pages of my shiny new copies of MAD magazine. Don Martin’s illustrations were published in MAD from 1956-1988, a bit before I started buying my own copies at the newsstand. However, MAD was (and still is) pretty epic. Even though some of the content was a bit over my head, I still knew it was smart, a bit subversive, and important reading. Don Martin is part of this legacy, and this latest addition to the MAD’s Greatest Artists series presents three decades of Martin’s best works to fans both old and new.
So with that being said, let’s talk about the book and its contents. First off, the Don Martin: Three Decades of His Greatest Works is an over-sized dust-jacketed hardback (12.25″ x 9.25″) with thick, smooth pages. The majority of the comics are black and white with gray, but there is a generous sprinkling of full-color comics and illustrations showcasing Martin’s best portraits, posters, and stickers that were created as bonuses for MAD Specials. One gets the impression that no details were overlooked during the design and layout for the Don Martin collection. First, the price list — “$30.00 Cheap! in U.S.A., $34.50 Cheap, eh? in Canada, £20.00 Bloody Cheap! in U.K.” — on the inside dust-jacket cracks me up. What a clever homage to the magazine’s current $5.99 Cheap! cover price. Second, the comic and art reproductions are really top-notch — and I’m sure many readers will appreciate that the text and dialogue bubbles are all a very nice readable size. And third, while I’m in no position to debate as to which of Don Martin’s works should or should not have been included, seasoned fans — and those whose heart goes a-flutter for good ol’ organization and labeling — will greatly appreciate that every selection is captioned with the issue number, month (or season if it’s a special issue), and year.
But enough about that, you probably won’t buy the book for the clever pricing, glossy pages, readable text, or bibliographic citations. You will get it for the comics and art, so let’s look inside, shall we? Martin’s characters are often recognized by their hinged feet, bulbous noses, and disproportionate body frames. Martin is also noted for his onomatopoetic sound effects. In fact, one fan named Doug Gilford has compiled an online dictionary of them!
As someone who has become smitten with all things comic as a thirty-something, it is intimidating to play catch-up and school myself in the comics medium. There’s a lot to read up on about the big rockstar artist and writer names, the history of various comic publishers, and, let’s not forget, all of the various characters and storylines. However, the Don Martin collection is most definitely one of those books where it doesn’t matter how much you do or don’t know about MAD magazine’s history and its legendary artists and writers. This latest addition to the MAD’s Greatest Artist series is a beautiful and well put together tribute to magazine’s maddest artist.
Check out the new Don Martin book as well as others from the MAD Greatest series: