Don Martin unchained!

Every Saturday for 13 weeks, we’re serializing Back Issue editor Michael Eury’s upcoming book Hero-A-Go-Go! — a ginchy exploration of the Silver Age and Swingin’ Sixties. For other installments, click here.

Hero-A-Go-Go! is due 4/19. You can pre-order it here.

Don Martin is a 13th Dimension favorite, which is kind of a stupid thing to say since he’s pretty much an everyone favorite. He was the kind of artist who could make you crack up with a single panel or, even better, sound effect. (POIT being the greatest ever.) Anyway, Michael Eury gets it and he wrote the column below as part of Hero-A-Go-Go!’s sizeable humor section:


Let me tell you something about Don Martin that you probably don’t know: He was a 20th Century Ponce de Leon.

While he didn’t discover the fabled Fountain of Youth, he did the next best thing by cartooning in
 a manner that could make any fella feel like a boy again. From his trademarks such as wiener heads, potato noses, pot bellies, and at flipper feet, Martin’s grotesque, utterly hilarious cartoons harkened back to the generation before mine, where comic books—especially MAD Magazine—were considered dangerous, subversive, and lowbrow, the stuff kids secretly read past bedtime under the covers with a flashlight.

To this day I can remember eyeing for the first time The MAD Adventures of Captain Klutz, the 192-page Signet Books paperback featuring Martin’s outrageous super-hero burlesque.

Copyright Don Martin

It was sometime in 1967. I was nine and had arrived at my hometown’s primary comic-book source, Williams Candy Kitchen, for the latest Batman funnybooks.

I had recently discovered MAD, with its fabled “Bats-Man” take-off in Issue #105 (Sept. 1966), and spotted Don Martin’s signature drawing style on the Klutz cover before noticing his name in the balloon that was levitating his hero skyward. Unlike other super-heroes, Captain Klutz didn’t look like he had just slid down a Batpole or stormed
 out of a phone booth.
 He looked like he had just crawled out of bed: red, wool longjohns, polka-dotted boxers (worn on the outside of his pants, per super-hero customs of the day), and bunny slippers.

“Why has he dedicated himself to a life of crime fighting?” asked the back cover copy. “Who really cares?” I was still too young to appreciate the Camp humor in TV’s Batman, but this, I found funny.

I still do.

Captain Klutz could’ve been used as a parable to warn kids about the dangers of reading too many comic books, so we wouldn’t turn out to be a total loser like Ringo Fonebone. When we meet him, Fonebone has spent his life doing nothing but reading comics: Fester
and Karbunkle, 
Brap Man, The
 Creep, Cockroach Man, The
 Purple Fink, The 
Plastic Freak,
 Acid Nose, you
 name it, he reads
 it. His parents 
have finally had
 enough and boot
 the adult Ringo 
out of the house.
 What follows is a
 downward spiral
 that leads him 
to one conclusion: He has to
 end it all.

Clad in his underwear and slippers, Fonebone knots together a network of towels as a noose and hurls himself off a rooftop. This may sound distasteful at worst, seriocomic at best, but through the pen of “MAD’s Maddest Artist” it’s an insane sequence of pratfalls.

Ringo’s towel rips, he plummets into an ugly lady’s hat, which “masks” him, and finally crashes atop a fleeing bank robber who snaps, “Why, you klutz!” And thus is born the caped protector of Megalopolis: Captain Klutz!

A rough of an unused cover. Copyright Don Martin.

Captain Klutz may have been Don Martin’s baby, but he was created by committee, with MAD’s Dick DeBartolo, Duck Edwing, Phil Hahn, Jack Hanrahan, and Nick Meglin in on the fun, capitalizing on the Camp Age’s super-hero craze.

Some of Captain Klutz’s shtick was recycled from the Golden Age of Comics — red longjohns were the fighting togs of the original Red Tornado, and the character Supersnipe was known as “The Boy with the Most Comic Books in America.” And Captain Klutz certainly wasn’t the only super-hero spoof in town at the time.

But where as the Inferior Five’s and Forbush Man’s hands were tied by the Comics Code Authority and TV’s Captain Nice and Mr. Terrific were tamed by network Standards and Practices, there were no such restraints on Captain Klutz. His failed-suicide origin aside, Captain Klutz relished its lack of political correctness.

Copyright Don Martin

Ringo Fonebone read Super Faggot and The Fat Maniac comic books, fought the doll-collecting Sissyman, accidentally disrobed a woman while changing in a phone booth, and paraded around naked (aside from a discreetly placed fig leaf) — and that was just in the first 78 pages! Following were battles against zombies, a giant spider named Gorgonzola, and Mervin the Mad Bomber, plus other strips and gags.

Captain Klutz returned in a handful of Don Martin paperbacks and received a sequel edition in 1983. Still, nothing can top the original edition for its freshness and funniness… and its ability to make a middle-aged man feel like a nine-year-old again.

NEXT: Batman Meets Jerry Lewis! Click here.

You can pre-order Hero-A-Go-Go! here.

Author: Dan Greenfield

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  1. Thank you for this. I have the giant, 2-volume “The Completely Mad Don Martin” which does NOT include the good Captain. I honestly can’t understand why DC or whoever owns the rights hasn’t re-issued the DM paperbacks for old and new eyes to enjoy, or enjoy again.

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  2. “I was born in a log cabin I helped my father build. I never met my mother. She ran away before I was born.”

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  3. I’ve still got my copy of Captain Klutz! I can’t remember when or where I bought it but it’s the ninth edition from the early seventies. I was already a fan of Don Martin’s artwork, having known of him since I bought my first issue of MAD magazine in 1964!

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  4. The copyrights to Captain Klutz are owned by Norma Haimes Martin, his wife. While it is true a “committee” was involved in the character’s creation, no one on this “committee” owns a drop of these copyrights in the visuals that Don created for all the stories/books. These writers were paid a fair share of the monies earned for this work and they know it. And anyone reproducing images from these books should get Mrs. Martin’s permission to do so. I do not want to be involved or a party to the never ending stupid argument (perpetuated by some MAD staff/contributors and others) as to who is more important–the writer or the artist? This dumb disagreement would have been solved long ago if there was a good answer. I will say this– when Don wrote his own material — for years and years — he was happiest. And he stopped writing because he was unhappy about losing his art and didn’t want to lose his the gags he struggled to create. Since MAD needed him he was glad to let them send him gags. The ones he continued to write he kept for himself. What MAD sent him to illustrate did not please him, most of the time. The rough appearing in this article was stolen and I bet I know who the thief is–. If I sound annoyed just imagine the bitterness Don felt when Gaines sold all his art at a time when Gaines could have, if he was a man with a modicum of goodness, given Don a portion of this art and kept the remaining sales earned all for himself! I am very happy that there are people who find the Captain a worthwhile hero. His gentle silliness is appreciated by many people. Mr. Eury should contact me for permission to use Don’s art. Thank you, Mrs. Norma Haimes Martim

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    • Hey interested people— I just want to clarify that I am NOT the widow of CAPTAIN KLUTZ. Just Don Martin’s. KLUTZ is alive and well somewhere in the world. NHM

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  1. Introducing … HERO-A-GO-GO! | 13th Dimension, Comics, Creators, Culture - […] — The MAD Adventures of Don Martin’s CAPTAIN KLUTZ. Click here. […]
  2. HERO-A-GO-GO! Aquaman’s Biggest Splash | 13th Dimension, Comics, Creators, Culture - […] NEXT: The Mad Adventures of Captain Klutz. Click here. […]

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