I’ve gotten quite a few requests for an interview with Man Martin, creator of Inkwell Forest. And I’m pleased to give you this little present for the holiday season. So…
BC: How did you get into cartooning?
MM: I’m dyslexic and got off to a rough start in first grade. (My teacher thought I was cognitively impaired in an era when the word for cognitive impairment wasn’t so politically correct.) Fortunately, my mother was a special education teacher and tutored me in reading using Mad Magazine and “Peanuts” comics. (My introduction to the classics of literature was through Mad parodies, and I believed Linus van Pelt was based on me.)
MM: For years my aspiration was to be a syndicated cartoonist. I got my break in the 80’s when Lew Little syndicated my strip “Sibling Revelry,” to some thirty papers around the country. Universal Press picked it up, but being a family strip, it was against pretty stiff competition – “Foxtrot,” “Calvin and Hobbes,” “One Big Happy,” “For Better or Worse,” and – of course – “Peanuts.” We were losing papers, and Lew suggested I launch a second strip; he even had a premise and a title: “Hasty Pudding;” it was to be about pre-Revolutionary America. I threw myself into the project and discovered a wealth of material sure to delight any satirist. The colonies were a hotbed of rivalry and competing self-interests: whites, native Americans, French, British, land-owners, working poor, proto-feminists, and African slaves. Lew was delighted with what I came up with, as well as Lee Salem – who was head honcho of Universal in those days. My opening strips were on the topic of slavery – which at before the Revolution was legal in all thirteen colonies, and Lew and Lee agreed I was handling the subject with wit, taste, and intelligence. Our debut paper was The Los Angeles Daily News. The day the strip premiered – featuring an exchange between an African slave and his owner – the Rodney King Riots broke out. Needless to say, I was dropped like a radioactive potato, and the strip I’d worked so hard on and had such hopes for, died an abrupt undignified death.
MM: After that I was heartbroken, simply heartbroken. I left cartooning – I thought forever – and became a schoolteacher, turning my creative energy to writing. I’m gratified that my two novels – Days of the Endless Corvette and Paradise Dogs – each garnered a Georgia Author of the Year Award. My third, The Lemon Jell-O Syndrome, comes out Spring 2017 from Unbridled Books.
BC: What made you start cartooning again?
MM: I began having dreams about drawing a strip. I’d wake up and think, “Maybe I should start drawing a strip again,” and then, “Nawww.” But eventually I decided to listen to my dreams, and I’ve been having a blast with it ever since.
BC: So what is “Inkwell Forest” about anyways?
MM: It started as a riff on traditional fairytales, but it’s grown to be more than that. The central characters are Little Red and her talking chicken, Alice, who claims to lay golden eggs. The cast is filled out with various giants, gnomes, mad scientists, dodos, and assorted weirdos. But really, it’s about anything that strikes me as funny. It’s completely anarchic. One of my characters is the Almighty himself, who appears as a little pyramid with a floating eyeball, and another is Boss Duck, a conflation of Donald Duck and another Donald, who I believe has made a name for himself in politics. I also guest-star on occasion.
BC: What’s your work schedule?
MM: I wake up really early, between 5:00 and 5:30 and come up with six ideas. (They don’t have to be good ideas, and most of them aren’t, but they’re the slag heap from which I select the ones I like.) Then I draw a rough before going to my day job. On weekends, I draw finishes and scan them in, and then I colorize them on weeknights. It’s hard to believe I’m a workaholic, but I guess I must be. I’ve got a wonderful set-up in my studio with my finishes and roughs hanging on wires around the wall so I can review, re-arrange, and revise them.
BC: If your strip had a soundtrack, what would it be?
I have very idiosyncratic taste in music, but I likes what I likes. I listen a lot to Caro Emerald, Katzenjammer, the Puppini Sisters, and Good Lovelies. If any members of any of the above groups happen to read this, I am your fan. I believe I could listen to “Demon Kitty Rag” or “Jilted” every hour on the hour without ever getting tired of them. I can’t listen to music when I’m coming up with ideas, but that’s my soundtrack when I’m drawing.
BC: How do you approach that blank page?
MM: It is the most frightening thing I have to do on a regular basis. This is not just idle talk. It is really frightening to lie in bed thinking I’ll have to get up in a few minutes and come up with some ideas and realize I have… nothing. It’s only a cartoon, I know, so it’s not like lives are at stake; still, it’s pretty unnerving and I never sit at my desk without a feeling of dread and creeping insecurity. Jim Davis, who created Garfield, compared the creative process to stepping into a dark closet, but really it’s more like climbing the ladder to the high dive and hoping there’ll be water in the pool when you jump.
BC: Can you talk a bit about your books?
MM: Endless Corvette is a story of true love, the mystery of life, and car repair. After losing the love of his life, mechanic Earl Mulvaney convinces himself that if he will take apart and rebuild the same classic 1959 Corvette, over and over again, saving the leftover pieces each time, eventually, he’ll have enough parts to construct an entire car. In the slightly off-center world of Humble County, that sort of thing is barely possible.
MM: In Paradise Dogs, real-estate speculator Adam Newman has a sure-fire way to reunite with his estranged ex-wife. He will pour a dozen loose diamonds in her lap with the words, “Take your pick, darlin’, we’ll set it in a ring later.” Unfortunately, he loses the diamonds – or does he? Perhaps they have been stolen by agents of the shadowy Compass East organization, which Adam believes may be a front for a communist conspiracy.
MM: In the Lemon Jell-O Syndrome – coming this May – Bone King suffers from a mysterious neurological malady – at times he is unable to go through doors. He consults the eminent neurologist Dr. Limongello (pronounced Lemon Jell-O) who gives him a chilling diagnosis: his very soul is becoming detached from his brain.
(All artwork here has been reproduced with the permission of the artist. Copyright Man Martin (c) 2016.)
(This interview is the copyright (c) of Curtis H. Hoffmann 2016. It may not be reproduced in whole or in part without the permission of the author.)