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Comedian Demetri Martin, probably best known for his Comedy Central show Important Things with Demetri Martin and his short stint as a correspondent on The Daily Show, released the imaginatively titled book This Is a Book to some acclaim (and even more sales success) last spring.
He followed it this spring with his sophomore print effort, Point Your Face At This: Drawings by Demetri Martin. While there’s no mention of cartoons or cartooning anywhere in or on it — the suggested subject on the back cover is “Humor/Illustrations” — I’m having a hard time thinking of any way to define the work within without calling it cartooning.
The book’s 280-plus pages are filled with jokes, all of which are told visually through a drawing, a particular arrangement of words, or some combination of the two. In addition to being a stand-up comedian, writer and actor, I guess Martin is also a cartoonist. And rather remarkably, given how talented he is at some of those other things he’s become, he’s a damn good one.
Now, he’s not the greatest of draftsmen. That image on the cover, a self-portrait of sorts, isn’t entirely representative of the work within — it’s actually one of the more complicated and sophisticated drawings, and it contains some color. His human beings are all just one step above stick figures, with nothing but clothing and hair utilized to tell you if they are men or women, firefighters or dentists, Indian fakirs or executioners.
(That image should give you a pretty good idea of Martin’s style, even though it’s not a good example of is humor, as it’s only one-half of a two-page spread captioned “break”; all of the characters hanging out are taken from different cartoons within the book.)
But he draws well enough to get the job done, the job being setting up and delivering a joke, and, in that way, his rather unadorned art style is reminiscent of his straightforward, deadpan, less-exhausted-sounding-version-of-Steven Wright stand-up joke delivery.
The simplicity is often used to the advantage of the joke, which may be set up as the sort of figure one might find in a text book, or a sort of public service announcement …
… or a simple rearrangement of numbers, or an observation about the differences and similarities of various simple shapes and symbols.
It’s true, there are plenty of pages in here that contain no drawings at all, but are composed rather of lists of words, but the vast majority have visual components, even if those visuals are as simple as Venn diagrams or various charts.
What I found most remarkable about the book wasn’t simply that it revealed yet one more thing Martin seems to excel at (Dude can also play guitar! And even though he’s years older than me, he still has a full head of lustrous hair!), or that it demonstrated he’s just as good at being funny in pictures as he is in spoken or written words, but rather the overall versatility of his humor and the sorts of jokes he tells.
Some are simple gags involving animals or common human foibles of the sort that used to be on newspaper funny pages daily, thanks to Gary Larson, some have dark humor that edges into Nicholas Gurewitch territory, some have R-rated punchlines you’d only find in comics appearing in what few altweeklies are still around, some are high-concept meta-media gags …
… and plenty are bog-standard, generic New Yorker or family-friendly newspaper cartoons (only less well-drawn, obviously), that are more noteworthy for their existence than their quality. See, in addition to his normal interest in word play and delayed thought-provoking humor, there are jokes about snake-charmers, the Grim Reaper and people stranded on desert islands and the like. I was genuinely surprised there weren’t any golf gags in it (I so expected golf to be covered, that I just flipped through the book yet again to quadruple-check that there weren’t, in fact, any golf jokes).
The title comes from a maxim of sorts on the very first page, by way of introduction: “Reality is a concept that depends largely upon where you point your face.”
I agree with the book’s title; Martin’s book of cartoons or drawings or whatever you’d like to call them excellent place to point your face for a while.