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The Antiquated Art of Satire

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When I was a kid I was addicted to Mad magazine. Which tells you something about my age. We used to have to get our satire at the newsstand before getting that paper copy of the Onion at the student center. I loved everything about Mad. I loved the writing, the irreverence, the detail- but what I loved most of all was the art. I was especially enamored of Mort Drucker, whose insanely intricate cross hatched masterpieces were right up there with anything John Tenniel ever did for Lewis Carrol’s books and it was every bit as iconographic.

Mad doesn’t hold the same audience it used to anymore. I think it’s at about a tenth of the size it was at the height of its circulation. The Onion is more known as a website than a newspaper, the same way Cracked is known for its online presence instead of the Mad magazine knockoff I grew up with back in the day. Bill Watterson took Calvin and Hobbes out at the height of their dominance at least in part due to the declining influence of the funny pages. Aaron McGruder left the Boondocks after a few years for television pastures on animation late night.

But there is one place where I think the best of cartoonists are still practicing their art at the height of their game. No, I’m not talking about the Family Circus, though I will admit that circular frame is pretty groundbreaking for a feature so square. I’m talking about the political cartoonists. These are the guys you see on the editorial page that aren’t Doonesbury and don’t have names even though they have recurring characters. There it is just smack dab on the page, that’s ART.

These troops in the trenches come in at varying skill levels just like any other genre of cartooning out there (and if you have thoughts to share on my level- be kind. I’m new) and the one I’ve been most entranced by is David Horsey. He has been cartooning longer than I’ve been alive- and it shows. His art is every bit as detailed and exaggerated as Mort Drucker’s work and the nuance and insight with which he illustrates make for immediate poignancy. He’s a columnist too (and a darned good one), but the words are almost unnecessary as his pictures are worth about 3156 words.

In the works of Horsey I see the best of both worlds. He is an obvious master with a pen and his lines are confident, flowing and varied. I don’t know his method for color, but it’s obviously done digitally and right skillfully as well. It’s easy in these rapidly changing times to try to cling to rules that no longer make sense, but I admire artists like Horsey who see the evolution of art and hang ten on that wave, holding for dear life. That’s inspirational.

I look forward to David Horsey and other eagle eyed Americans looking out for our interests for the next four years (more or less). I hope someday to be within telescope distance of these great satirists someday. In the meantime, I leave you with this cartoon which I swear is political. Think about it.

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Garfield Plus Martin

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I don’t know what the weather has been like in your neck of the woods, but here in Utah we have snow and cold and more snow and cold. It’s been a good week to crawl in bed and stay there. So I did. It made me think of the snow days of yore. The days where just looking out the window made me go ick and I would curl up with a pile of comics. The start of my love affair, if you will.

I was addicted in those heady days, to Garfield. Maybe because as a housebound minor those books were the easiest to get my hands on. I had a huge stack of them you would always get from Scholastic book fairs. It was from Garfield that I learned the art of a snappy retort, along with the efforts of one Mr. Al Jaffee. It was from my parents that I (reeeeally) eventually learned to put a sock in it.

For my whole childhood, I thought I was Garfield. The no nonsense Monday hating cat who was continually bested by life but too jaded and lazy to really care. It wasn’t until I saw the work of Dan Walsh that I realized that I had never known how much Jon Arbuckle lived in my head. That was the magic of the world of Garfield Minus Garfield, a comic strip starring Jon Arbuckle and only Jon Arbuckle.

It would be easy to dismiss Walsh’s efforts as not art as the legwork is initially produced by Garfield author Jim Davis, but that overlooks the genius of Walsh’s brilliant theme as well as his attention to detail in the seamless removal of all traces of the feisty feline. By removing the titular character from such a succinct medium, he produces a surreal and existential view of life you might expect from a Tom Stoppard or Samuel Beckett.

In this digital age, it’s hard to draw the line between what is art and what is appropriation. For every Walsh with a supportive backing of a muse like Davis, there’s a Bill Watterson that has to look at a bootleg Calvin peeing on a pickup every time he leaves the house. For every thousand boring memes there’s a James Fridman who surprises us all with a view on a world where symbolism and literalism collide with hilarious results. For a while I toyed with the idea of a Garfield Plus Garfield where I replaced the main characters in strips like the Boondocks, Bloom County etc. with Garfield so there was something of a post modern ratiocination going on, but I decided that sounded like an awful lot of work. Maybe someday in the future when I’m spread less thin.

In the meantime, if you have a snow day in your future and you’re looking for something good to read, you could do worse than to curl up on the couch with Garfield Minus Garfield.

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The Day After

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Catchin’ up, catchin’ up, catchin’ up… Hope you all had a great holiday weekend and that all family get togethers ceased screaming long enough for pie. Pie should bring everyone together and everyone should have at least 3.14 slices of it per get together. Too stuffed to be racist. It’s my message of healing, yo.

As for me, I spent most of the weekend arting. I got quite a few cartoons done for your viewing pleasure. I was consistently terrorized by tub spiders who accommodate me when I want to suffer for my art. I drew these (with a few more in the pipes):

Soon to be merchandized at a web near you

But I also took some time off because it’s a holiday, why not? I saw a lot of things online about DAPL and Black Friday and I get it. The holidays are stressful. It’s not just you. You don’t think Martha Stewart is freaking out right now? You think she doesn’t know that if she doesn’t have those hand carved compostable centerpieces then she’s going to hostess hell? She can smell Gwyneth Paltrow nipping at her heels. She gets it.

I just want to say there’s no wrong way to be thankful and that gratitude doesn’t need to built into a holiday. I was lucky enough to spend the day with my best friend and she’s all kinds of amazing. If you don’t have someone that amazing in your life, maybe get involved with something you’re passionate about because we sorely need amazing people to be amazing together.

Finally, the best reason I can think of to be grateful for the things you have is that it highlights all the things you don’t have. I don’t mean that in an envious my neighbor has a 90 inch tv and all I have is this 60 inch piece of crap way. I mean by contextualizing who we are in the world, it imposes on us humility. By assessing what we’re missing, it defines the path of where we need to go. Gratitude is a way of accepting our imperfections.

I’m grateful for this chance to move forward with you all.

Thankfully,

Martin

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The More Things Change…

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…the more they really change. Can we agree that 2016 has been a really weird year?

gothic
Yup. This weird.

 

I’ll start by saying that cartooning is something that I enjoy. A lot. I’m not the best in the world at it, but have you seen what Garry Trudeau’s early work looks like? Have you seen what Scott Adams looks like now? I will get better. It’s a promise from me to you and, more importantly, from me to me.

Speaking of Scott Adams, I don’t know how many of you noticed this piece he wrote regarding this hellstorm of an election, but he has formally endorsed Donald Trump after stating that he knows nothing about the issues but that he does know that Hillary’s supporters are bullies.

As a certain type of successful white man, he then goes on to talk about how his books are now being downgraded on Amazon as a result of his political uncorrectness (I know it’s incorrectness but I’m fighting back against PC thugs telling me how to wurd). Writers are speaking out against him motivated only by a desire to diminish his authority because of course that and jealousy are the only reason that any writer ever writes about another writer.

A Graveyard Smash
And we all know jealousy makes monsters of us all.

 

This is honestly the kind of writing I would expect from the apologist balladeer of the crappy workplace (my two cents are ‘it’s funny because it’s true!’ is the same logic that gave us Hogans Heroes).

Contrast this with something that I read recently in the book Only What’s Necessary: Charles M. Schulz and the Art of Peanuts. I would go so far as to say Charles Schulz was the most commercially influential cartoonist in American history. All of the plushies, lunch boxes, coffee mugs and assorted desiderata (I love that word so much) of all the cartoonists working today might approach the level that Snoopy and the gang reached. I assume so, without bothering to research- but it feels right doesn’t it?

In this book there is s0me correspondence between Schulz and a teacher named Harriet Glickman. Harriet very kindly writes Schulz and tells him his comic is so wonderfully received and influential, could he please see his way to add a black character to help with integration? Schulz, again very kindly, writes back that he wouldn’t dare as he would be afraid to come across as condescending to people of color. He writes back and forth with some of Harriet’s black friends expressing his concerns, they share with him some of theirs and eventually Peanuts sees the introduction of Franklin, its’ first black character.

My point? Success comes with privileges and responsibilities, just like being a spider powered superhero. Fifty years ago there was a cartoonist so beloved that he probably could have been president himself who modestly and circumspectly approached the controversial issues of the day- and to be fair I did get a whiff of the protection of his commercial interests at play. Fast forward to today and a niche cartoonist whose niche is not politics and who claims to know little of the issues asks us to upvote his books on the interwebs as a political statement.

I don’t judge or claim to understand either of these men because I have walked nowhere in their shoes. To that end I would like to propose that a well endowed ivy league school give me a LOT of money from their sociology department (first dibs to Princeton so I can meet Paul Krugman) and I promise to fully document all the effects overnight success imposes on a bleeding heart liberal. I look forward to discussing my views on the capital gains tax with you.

Frugally,

Martin

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Cha cha cha Changes…

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I hope you can forgive me if I get a little confessional today. I’ll try to keep it light.

So five days ago I tied the knot with unemployment. We had been flirting with each other for years, but we just couldn’t contain ourselves anymore. We were meant to be. This is my cute and not too heavy way of saying I was laid off.

Blaah!

I want to make it clear that this situation was not at all my situation. My boss was ok. The job was… ok. Really really really really boring but ok. It was also very very easy, which led to my improving how it was done to the point that my company could reduce my department of three’s headcount by a third. Ironic, yes?

Which now puts me in the position of assessing step two. What to do with life now? In the past, I have tried very hard to do the things that I was told needed to be done to provide a secure future for myself. Notably absent among those options was that of being an artist- the one and only thing I have *ever* wanted to be. I went to college and got a history degree before I found out I didn’t much feel like being a teacher and the options for using a history degree are pretty small.

From there I got a job in a call center because first jobs are usually in call center, fast food places or a grocery store. That’s what you do, right? I then went to law school to get further than five miles from where I had come of age. I still wanted to be an artist and when I sat down and figured out how much it would cost for my ideal studio, I didn’t see that coming as a result of being an artist. So I was going to be a crusading lawyer who fixed the system from the inside and used my ample salary to have a nice studio.

After graduating I figured out how little I wanted to be a lawyer and how really really broken I felt the judicial system to be. So… no legal career and a student loan debt that is ironically what I thought it would have cost for the studio I wanted in the first place.

Then… back to the call centers because let’s face it- once you set your foot on a career path, that’s the path you are going to follow for the rest of your life. My ex-employers, with the best of intentions, have signed me up for a transition service to help me find another job ASAP. By which they mean a job using the skills you have used to get your other jobs to get a job just like this job. And I hated those jobs. All of them. Repetition here would be insanity.

Bosch, no.

So… knowing that there is no security, and tired of chasing it, I’m going all in. I spent 30 years being told you can’t make a living as an artist, and since it’s kind of apparent I can’t make a living doing anything else- I’m doing what I should have done in 1994. I’m gonna be an artist. If you’re anywhere in the world and you have art needs, hit me up. If you live in Salt Lake City and need your dog walked or something, hit me up for that too. Thanks for letting me vent interwebs friends and I’m looking forward to sharing this adventure with you all.

Love and fearfully excited hugs,

Martin

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