What works best when the internet is constantly losing the signal is to make the post as simple as possible. So here’s a picture I love to show off.
Born in 1931 and lasting in this crazy, mixed-up world until the year 2000, Don Martin was a mixy, crazed-up cartoonist for Mad Magazine who would come to be billed as “Mad Magazine’s Maddest Artist.” His greatest work was done during his Mad years, from 1956 (the year I was born… not a coincidence, I firmly believe) until his retirement in 1988. And I learned a lot from him by reading his trippy toons in Mad from my childhood until my early teacher-hood.
His style is uniquely recognizable and easily identifiable. Nobody cartoons a Foon-man like Don Martin.
The googly eyes are always popped in surprise. The tongue is often out and twirling. Knees and elbows always have amazingly knobbly knobs. Feet have an extra hinge in them that God never thought of when he had Adam on the drawing board.
And then there is the way that Martin uses sound effects. Yes, cartoons in print don’t make literal sounds, but the incredible series of squeedonks and doinks that Martin uses create a cacophony of craziness in the mind’s ear.
And there is a certain musicality in the rhyming of the character names he uses. Fester Bestertester was a common foil for slapstick mayhem, and Fonebone would later stand revealed by his full name, Freenbeen I. Fonebone.
And, of course, one of his most amazingly adventurous ne’er-do-well slapstick characters was the immeasurable Captain Klutz!
Here, there, and everywhere… on the outside he wears his underwear… it’s the incredible, insteadable, and completely not edible… Captain Klutz!
If you cannot tell it from this tribute, I deeply love the comic genius who was Don Martin, Mad Magazine’s Maddest Artist. Like me he was obsessed with nudists and drawing anatomy. Like me he was not above making up words with ridiculous-sounding syllables. And like me he was also a purple-furred gorilla in a human suit… wait! No, he wasn’t, but he did invent Gorilla-Suit Day, where people in gorilla suits might randomly attack you as you go about your daily life, or gorillas in people suits, or… keep your eye on the banana in the following cartoon.
So, even though I told you about Bruce Timm and Wally Wood and other toon artists long before I got around to telling you about Don Martin, that doesn’t mean I love them more. Don Martin is wacky after my own heart, and the reason I spent so much time immersed in Mad Magazine back in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s.
The crucial Iowa trip began with a rocky start, so rocky in fact, it almost seemed like an avalanche was rumbling down the mountainside of the future to crush us body and soul. I say it was a crucial trip because of the pandemic that kept me caged in Texas for the past two entire years. My father died in the meantime, And my mother, at 86, is gradually fading with poor heart health as well.
We had vehicle issues. The RV needed an oil change, and so, it was in the shop for an entire day longer than the mechanic had quoted to us when we took it in. True to form power outages and internet outages prevented us from getting the crucial maintenance in a more timely fashion.
And as we were nearing our destination, we learned that my mother was in the emergency room with raging high blood pressure. Another unexpectedly gloomy delay. I cried when she finally got released from the hospital and I was able to hug her once more.
And of course, the very next morning, Mom’s blood pressure was way too high once again. We called the ambulance and spent a tough morning with her looking gray in the face, and the rest of us were a little green with worry.
But Mom’s meds were re-adjusted and began doing what they were supposed to do. She was released rather than admitted to the hospital again. And this morning the sun came out. She’s a hundred percent better and the world is right again.
So, I took some pictures of the sunshine on the farm place, and I feel better about the world now too.
Yes, today is another in a long, tepid series of Art-Day posts, but it is also about metacognitive thinking. Specifically thinking about thinking using pictures to think with. (Maybe that title should say, “Free-Thought Thinker” rather than, “Thought-Free.”)
To start with, what does a person actually see when they close their eyes? My brain does not color everything on the inside of my eyelids black. Even in the dark of night with no nightlight so that nothing shines through my eyelids, my brain interprets the dark as shapes, patterns, and colors. Hence the inspiration for this picture.
But my brain is never satisfied with raw shapes, colors, and patterns. It has to interpret ideas into them. The mass of yellow and black resolves into a butterfly, or a sunflower, or an etude by J.S. Bach. The pink mass becomes a blond girl playing the music in my head…. a girl from piano-lesson days in the early 70’s. But naked. The way I always thought about her while sitting and waiting for my piano lesson and listening to hers. How else does a boy think about a pretty girl when he is fourteen?
And as the items in the picture take shape, they do also begin to tell a story. Who is this Dr. Seabreez? Is he a shaman of the Republic of Lakotah People? Is he a white man? Seabreez is not a Native American name. The naked boy by the tent flap has a crutch, and there is a mouse silhouetted nearby. Does that make him a medical doctor? A veterinarian? A professor of Native-American Studies? The mind begins to piece together a script.
But here we see that Dr. Seabreez has set up a new practice in Japan. Again the boy near the door has a crutch and there is a silhouetted mouse near him. But now the other boy has horns on his forehead. Why horns? And pointed ears? Is he a Doctor of Magic and Wizardry? Demonology perhaps? And what is an anthropomorphized panda doing in Japan? That’s clearly a Japanese castle in the distance. The collar Kanji is definitely Japanese in character.
And now there are horns again. Three of them by my count. And another naked character. But a Grecian background. The mind is here making connections between the pictures, noticing patterns. Appreciating colors. And turning every detail over in the mind’s eye, evaluating and analyzing.
Art, especially on Saturdays, totally engages the mind. That is one of the reasons we keep art around to look at again and again. It is the purpose of art to make us see something. And not just once, superfluously. We must see it in depth, looking beyond the surface.
This is a silhouette of the statue of Will Rogers where he stands above the turnpike that bears his name in Oklahoma. We are headed home to Iowa for the first time in two years. Old Will has helped us get there more than a few times since 1981.
On a quiet back street in Toonerville there is a haunted house. Obviously four meddling kids and their talking dog are looking around inside, but they won’t find anything. It is my dark place. I am the only one that can go inside and discover what truly is there, for the dark things inside are all a part of the dark side of Mickey.
But Mickey doesn’t have a dark side, you try and argue. Micky is all goofy giggles and nerdy Dungeons and Dragons jokes. Mickey is all cartoons and silly stories and he makes us all guffaw.
But I can assure you, everyone has a dark side. Without darkness, how can anyone recognize the light?
So, I have to go inside the old Ghost House every now and then and take stock of all the furniture, and make note of everyone… and every thing that has been living there. I go in there now because I am starting to rewrite a very dark story that I really have to get down on paper in novel form. It isn’t a true story. Ghost stories never are. But it is full of true things… old hurts, old fears, panics, and ghosts of Christmases Past.
There was the night I was stalked by a large black dog when I was nine and walking home from choir practice at the Methodist Church. We are talking Hound of the Baskervilles sort of big damn dog. I knew every dog that lived in town in those days, but I didn’t know that one. Maybe it wasn’t actually hunting me, but I ran the last two blocks to my house that night faster than I ever knew I could run before.
There was that cool autumn afternoon when he grabbed me and pushed me down behind a pile of tractor tires in the neighbor’s yard. He forcibly got my pants down… and what he did to me… It has taken more than forty years to be able to talk about what happened. I wasn’t able to talk about it until after I learned that he had died.
There were the nights spent in the emergency room. Severe potassium depletion… chest pains that could’ve been heart trouble but weren’t… The morning when my blood pressure was so high I thought I was going to die in front of my second period seventh grade English class. And the terrible waits in the emergency room when someone I loved was serious about suicide… that was the most terrible of all.
I am not frightened by the grim reaper in the same way that Shaggy and Scooby are. I have spent time in his company too many times for that. I do not fear him. In some ways he brings welcome relief. And I do believe I can beat him in chess and at least tie him in checkers.
So, yeah, the dark resources are all still there… still in place at the bottom of a deep, dark well. Bad things do wait in the future… but they are in the present and the past also. I am not a slave to fear and evil has no power over me. So, I think I can safely write a horror story. And I admit I am not Steven King. But I don’t want to be him. I want to be Mickey. And that is certainly scary enough for me.
Yes, I am trying to answer that old question that old girlfriends used to ask me back when they were young and I was young and too stupid to answer honestly. You know, the question always asked right before they tell you, “Why don’t we just be friends and leave it at that.”
After having spent my Christmas money from Mom on an 18-inch giant gorilla action figure of Kong on Skull Island to terrorize all the dolls on the Barbie Shelf after midnight when all the dolls secretly come to life, I feel more prepared than ever before to answer that particular question.
I am not in my second childhood. I am still in my first one. Yes, I reached the ripe old age of 12 and then Peter Pan Syndrome set in bigtime. On the inside, I will always be 12 years old. I still, at 61, play games and play with toys. I never really grew up.
I am not a Brony, but I am still buying My Little Pony dolls, and can name all six of the main characters. From left to right, Fluttershy, Rarity, Pinkie Pie, Apple Jack, Rainbow Dash, and Twilight Sparkle. And yes, I have watched the cartoon show and like it, but am still not a Brony, okay? There are a lot of things wrong with me, but I am not that bad! My kids, however, are embarrassed to be seen with me when I am shopping for toys at Walmart, Toys-R-Us, or Goodwill.
I still play with the HO scale model trains that I have owned and collected since the first year I was actually twelve. I would love to get them running again. The Snowflake Special and the Toonerville Trolley seen in the picture both still ran the last time I tested them four years ago. I still love to paint buildings and HO scale people to live in my little train town. I am still working on a set of townspeople that I bought back in 1994. German villagers circa 1880.
I have always been fascinated by imaginary places and the people who live in them. Especially imaginary places in the fiction of the past. Places like the castle of Minas Tirith in the realm of Gondor in Middle Earth, and like Pellucidar that David Innes and Abner Perry discovered at the Earth’s Core in their boring machine called “the Prospector”as part of the Pellucidar series created by Edgar Rice Burroughs, author of the Tarzan novels. So, another thing wrong with me is that I live mostly in the past and entirely in the worlds of my imagination. I have very little to do with the so-called “real world”.
So, to sum up, the things wrong with Mickey are; A. He’s a goofy old child. B. He still plays with toys. C. He likes girly stuff. D. He confuses fantasy with reality. No wonder the girls used to run away screaming. And I haven’t even added the part about Mickey thinking he is a nudist now and walking around the house naked when no one else is home and forced to see the full horror of it.
But maybe you should think on it for a moment more. What if the things that are wrong with Mickey are actually good things? What if he’s found the secret to long life and happiness in spite of a world full of troubles and illnesses and blechy stuff? It could be true…
There is a place so like the place where my heart and mind were born that I feel as if I have always lived there. That place is a cartoon panel that ran in newspapers throughout the country from 1913 to 1955 (a year before I was born in Mason City, Iowa). It was called Toonerville Folks and was centered around the famous Toonerville Trolley.
Fontaine Fox was born near Louisville Kentucky in 1884. Louisville, of course is one of the two cities that claims to be the inspiration for Toonerville. Apparently the old Brook Street Line Trolley in Louisville was always run-down, operating on balls of twine and bailing wire for repair parts. The people of Pelham, New York, however, point to a trolley ride Fox took in 1909 on Pelham’s rickety little trolley car with a highly enterprising and gossip-dealing old reprobate for a conductor. No matter which it was, Fox’s cartoon mastery took over and created Toonerville, where you find the famous trolley that “meets all trains”.
I didn’t learn of the comic strip’s existence until I was in college, but once I found it (yes, I am the type of idiot who researches old comics in university libraries), I couldn’t get enough of it. Characters like the Conductor, the Powerful (physically) Katrinka, and the terrible-tempered Mr. Bang can charm the neck hair off of any Midwestern farm-town boy who is too stupid to regret being born in the boring old rural Midwest.
I fancied myself to be just like the infamous Mickey (himself) McGuire. After all, we have the same first name… and I always lick any bully or boob who wants to put up a fight (at least in my daydreams).
So, this is my tribute to the cartoonist who probably did more to warp my personality and make me funny (well, at least easy to laugh at! ) than any other influence. All of the cartoons in this post can be credited to Fontaine Fox. And all the people in them can be blamed on Toonerville, the town I used to live in, though I never really knew it until far too late.
The Evil Professor Rattiarty
A short while later Bobby went out through the back door to find and torment his little brother Shane. He was definitely thinking of the word “torment” rather than “torture” because of that last lesson about how to treat your little brother better that Grandpa Butch gave him.
Horatio, in hat and smoking his pipe, followed close behind on his heels. Horatio only rarely let Bobby leave the house without him, especially when it wasn’t a school day.
“You have to remember that Shane is a very good boy,” Horatio said. “Being mean to him on purpose doesn’t hurt him as much as it does you.”
“Are you trying to be my conscience or something?” Bobby asked.
“Actually, I prefer to think of myself as the detective. And you are my Dr. Wadlow.”
“I think you mean Dr. Watson. Wadlow was that eight-foot-tall guy we were reading about in the school library.”
“Bobby, you know you were in the library by yourself, right? I only said Wadlow because you were thinking it.”
“Sure, I know. Imagining stuff is one of the few things I am good at. And remembering weird stuff is another. Robert Pershing Wadlow was 8 feet and 11 inches tall when he died at age 22. He was the tallest human guy that ever lived.”
Shane, Bobby’s 11-year-old brother, was swinging on the tire swing that was tied up to a horizontal branch in the old walnut tree near the north grove.
“Hey, Little Dick, wanna see the drowned Turken?”
“Sure.” Shane was a quiet child who rarely teased or picked on anybody. That’s why he had taken to calling him “Little Dick” at about the same time that Mom had named the stupidest turken, “Little Bob.” Shane had merely asked why he was being called a nickname for “Richard” instead of his own name. Bobby never explained anything to Shane.
The boy with the mouse-brown hair and blue shorts hopped off the old car tire that was used as a swing and hustled after Bobby on the way to the horse tank where Bobby had left the body wrapped and ready for burial..
When they got there, the waterlogged and potentially bloated-by-now corpse of Little Bob was missing, except for a couple of soaked turken feathers and the torn cloth.
“Where is it?” asked Shane.
“I swear, when I left it was right here.”
“Well, it’s not here now. Just feathers.”
Horatio snuffled the entire area with his hyper-powered sense of smell.
“Professor Rattiarty!” Horatio declared.
“Of course, it was!” declared Bobby.
“Of course, what was?” asked Shane.
“Horatio says that the body was stolen by Professor Rattiarty.”
“No, it can’t be him again. Didn’t Horatio eat him in that caper three months ago? When he tried to break into the house and get my toys out of my toybox?”
“Rattiarty always manages to survive somehow. It’s miraculous… evilly miraculous.”
“You do know that Horatio doesn’t actually talk, don’t you? I think it all comes out of your evil imagination.”
“If Horatio doesn’t talk, then how did he solve the case of your missing Science report?”
“It was a report on giraffes. I think it was probably you who moved it from the G encyclopedia to the C encyclopedia. I didn’t make that mistake myself. And how can a dog smell a piece of notebook paper stuck in a closed book?”
“Elementary, my dear Little Dick.” Bobby was never going to explain the other meaning of “Little Dick.” “He was detecting your scent with his superior nose. He is actually… ta, ta, ta, TAAAH! Horatio T. Dogg, Super-Sleuth!”
“Sure, he is.”
“I can smell where the body was dragged off to. Do we pursue?” asked Horatio.
“No, no… another time. Right now, I need to pound on Little Dick’s shoulder some more.” So, Bobby beat on his brother again, though only with softened blows. You see, Bobby was bullied a lot in school and around other children in general. Taking things out on Shane was sometimes the only thing he could do. Well, that was because Shane was the only person in the whole world that Bobby could beat up. And then, he suspected, only because Shane let him do it.