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Subject: Archive: Don Martin, Jan. 6, 2000

Mad's maddest atist
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Date Posted: Monday, January 06, 12:47:16pm

Don Martin, the Mad magazine cartoonist with a rubbery slapstick style whom the magazine billed as ''Mad's maddest artist,'' died on Thursday at Baptist Hospital in Miami. He was 68.

The cause was cancer, said Christine Thompson, a hospital spokeswoman.

Mr. Martin's hapless characters inhabited a topsy-turvy, Kafka-esque world in which a hotel guest complaining about cockroaches might discover that the desk clerk himself was a giant cockroach, complete with four arms, stubble, cigar and irately quivering antennae. His prototypical drawing was of a jug-eared, slack-jawed, knock-kneed and hinge-footed man impervious to all types of mayhem, even when he is tap-dancing over an open manhole and bouncing off a skyscraper beam.

After selling his first cartoon to Mad in 1956, Mr. Martin continued to draw for the magazine until 1987, when he left to work for a rival magazine, Cracked, because of disagreements over reprint rights with Mad's publisher, William M. Gaines.

Like many other magazines, Mad pays artists on a work-for-hire basis and reserves the profitable reprint rights. Mr. Martin felt so strongly about the issue that he testified before a Congressional subcommittee on the rights of freelance artists. Paperback collections of Mr. Martin's previously unpublished cartoons were issued starting in 1962 with ''Don Martin Steps Out!'' and have sold more than seven million copies.

His gags fit in well with the ''sick'' school of the 1950's humor, but his loose, kinetic style and outrageously physical form of attack brought the strips into their own dimension. Like latter-day Harold Lloyds, his characters named Fonebone and Captain Klutz were at odds with the modern world. Machinery was always the enemy, from power tools to steamrollers to things as simple as a paper-towel dispenser.

Mr. Martin elevated the comic book sound effect to new onomatopoeic heights. In his wacky world, a squirting flower went ''SHKLITZA,'' and recalcitrant meals of spaghetti or pizza made inimitably meaty sounds. Each form of physical torture had its own exquisite sound: getting slapped in the face with a wet mackerel went ''SPLADAP,'' while getting conked with a frying pan went ''PWANG.'' His own vanity license plate read ''SHTOINK.''

He attributed his style to influences as diverse as the grotesque characters of Bosch, the manic energy of the Warner Brothers cartoons and the elegant line of Al Hirschfeld.

Mr. Martin's admirers included Gary Larson, known for the twisted humor of ''The Far Side.'' An animated version of Mr. Martin's cartoons also appeared briefly on Fox Television's ''Mad TV.''

Mr. Martin was born in Passaic, N.J., grew up in Brookside, N.J., and attended public school in Morristown, N.J. ''It is interesting that all three towns deny any and all of this information,'' he wrote in a biographical note in the 1970's. He then studied at the Newark School of Fine Art for three years and graduated from the Pennsylvania Academy of Art in Philadelphia.

He drew despite a degenerative eye condition for which he underwent corneal transplants. To produce his last strips, he needed to wear special contact lenses that caused great discomfort and to work with a magnifying glass.

He is survived by his wife, Norma; a son, Max; a brother, Ralph, and a grandson.

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