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Mission Statements

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It’s my intention that I use this forum to write about some of the great comics that artists out there are doing, and I totally intend to do that. Today, however, I want to talk a bit more abstractly about comic art and humor as a tradition and where I hope to fit in that narrative.

What brings this introspection on? Is it the fact that my yearly life crisis approaches in the form of my birthday and I start freaking out about my legacy? Maybe. But it’s pretty impertinent of you to ask, and I’m instead going to focus on the news. Most specifically, Charlie Hebdo. Earlier this week the artist El Rhazoui stated she would be leaving the French satire magazine as she feels the weekly has gone soft on Islamist extremism. If this is the case, I for one cannot blame them as it has now been two years since Hebdo’s offices were stormed by two Algerian brothers who killed twelve in response to inflammatory cartoons about the Prophet Muhammad.

I’m not a faithful follower of Charlie Hebdo and my near complete lack of fluency in French means any subtleties are lost in the translation, yet I don’t know that I could see myself becoming a fan. What I have looked at doesn’t seem to contain any subtleties. Over the top colors, hectic art and what seems to me to be a healthy dose of self righteousness gives me a distaste for what little work I’ve seen. Satire, like so many other arts, is a deadly serious business to the French. Contrast this to the torch bearer of American satire, which is known for taking nothing seriously, least of all Mad itself.

Which prompts the question (boy there are a lot of those today): Is satire what I aim for as an artist? Maybe. A little. I aim to share with you, my dozens of loyal readers, those things that strike me funny. Sure there is some rooting in the real world, but my head has never spent a whole lot of time there. I hope to be more Charles Addams or Gary Larson than El Rhazoui or Mort Drucker. Of course, anyone who tries to make a joke can always draw the ire of someone somewhere. Gary Larson once drew a cartoon about Jane Goodall that was hated by all her fans and ironically loved by Jane Goodall. I see this as the opposite of the situation where Mr. Sulu was made a gay character in the new Star Trek universe to “honor” George Takei against his wishes.

If I have any end goal in my mind of my artistic hopes and dreams, it would be to do at least one comic that equals Garry Trudeau at his prime. During the Vietnam War, Doonesbury approached the most serious subjects known to man with such a gentle good humor that the strip never actually achieved having a villain. How could you not have a soft spot in your heart for Phred the Terrorist? The same essential harmlessness was embodied in Bloom County, though the emotions, in comparison to Doonesbury, went up to 11.

What do I want to do as a cartoonist? I want to be able to talk about things I think are weird or funny or stupid or interesting and, regardless of your feelings on the joke, I want you to think Martin is a nice guy. I might have a few issues to work out, but as far as I can see, I’m in the best place to do it.

What do some of you look for in a comic strip? Drop in and I’ll give you a figurative penny for your thoughts.

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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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