Henry Martin, wry New Yorker cartoonist, is dead at 94
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Henry Martin, wry New Yorker cartoonist, is dead at 94
Henry Martin’s cartoons were set in conference rooms and homes, on desert islands and roadsides, at Heaven’s gate and in maternity wards. Henry Martin/The New Yorker.

by Richard Sandomir

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- A naked man perched atop a bookcase asks his wife, “Have you noticed, Myrna, that I’m getting more and more neurotic?”

An executive sitting behind a massive empty desk buzzes his intercom to tell his secretary, “Miss Tompkins, connect me with somebody.”

An angel greets a newly risen man with a questionnaire: “And twelve: how did you learn about us — (a) church, (b) synagogue, (c) family member, (d) word of mouth?”

Henry Martin brought a wry, genial sense of humor to nearly 700 cartoons published in The New Yorker over 35 years. They were set in conference rooms and homes, on desert islands and roadsides, at heaven’s gate and in maternity wards.

In one, six newborns in a hospital are welcomed by a loudspeaker announcement: “As soon as your parent or guardian has settled your bill, you may leave, and good luck in recouping your payment from your insurance carrier.”

Martin, whose last cartoon for The New Yorker appeared in 1999, died on June 30 in Newtown, Pennsylvania. He was 94.

His daughter Jane Read Martin confirmed his death.

An affable, courteous man who retained his Kentucky accent long after he moved north, Martin defined his artistic mission as finding humor in the mundane and everyday.

“The cartoonist’s job is to observe, toss the observations about in a basket of happy insanity and report the results with an economy of line and a spare sprinkling of words,” he wrote in the brochure to a cartoon exhibition he curated in 1985 to benefit the McCarter Theater, on the campus of Princeton University.

Michael Maslin, the New Yorker contributor behind Ink Spill, a blog about the magazine’s cartoonists, praised Martin in an email for his “precision” and for his “clean, crisp lines and wash, and clean, crisp captions.”

“When I picture a Henry Martin cartoon,” Maslin added, “I picture a man and woman talking and saying something succinctly funny. No overdrawn environment, no iffy wording in the caption.”

Some Henry Martin cartoons were also daffy and absurd — like “The Seven Lively Arts,” which showed seven grinning men named Art, and “Writer’s Block,” in which he drew a simple block that says “A, E, I, O, U” on one side and “i before e except after c” on the other.

Henry Read Martin was born on July 15, 1925, in Louisville, Kentucky. His father, Lyman, was the president of the Mengel Co., a box and furniture manufacturer. His mother, Adele (Read) Martin, was a homemaker involved in fundraising and alumni activities at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky, her alma mater. She also provided a stained-glass window to the student center’s chapel.

By 4, Henry loved to draw; by 15, he knew he wanted to make it a career.

“My plan was to work hard at getting better at what I did and to learn as much as I could before venturing out on my own,” he told his daughter Ann M. Martin, the creator of the popular children’s book series “The Baby-Sitters Club” and the writer of many of the books in the series, in an interview on the Scholastic website in 2014.

He attended a prep school in Dallas, where he contributed cartoons and illustrations to the school newspaper and yearbook. He graduated from Princeton University in 1948 — his senior thesis was about cartooning — and spent the next two years studying at the American Academy of Art in Chicago.

After marrying Edith Matthews in 1953, he began working from a small studio in Princeton with a desk, drawing board and easel that his parents had given him. He drew for magazines including Saturday Review and Good Housekeeping; illustrated humor books for Peter Pauper Press (among them “Salty Sayings for Cynical Tongues,” in 1959) and, with a friend, designed two board games, Boondoggle and Supermarket, and sold them to Parker Brothers.

He began his association with The New Yorker by drawing spot art — the deft little illustrations tucked into the text of articles — in the early 1950s. But he wanted more. In 1960, he began submitting 20 cartoons a week, but none of them were chosen until 1964. That first one showed a smiling hitchhiker wearing a bathing suit, goggles, flippers and a scuba tank and holding a sign saying “Shore Points” to an oncoming car.

More acceptances followed in 1965, and Martin soon became a regular, along with contemporaries like Edward Koren, Mort Gerberg, William Hamilton and George Booth.

In all, he published 691 cartoons in the magazine. He also contributed to the British magazines Punch and The Spectator. In the late 1970s, he began a daily syndicated cartoon called “Good News/Bad News,” which largely lampooned businessmen. It lasted for 15 years.

“I really like the business setting,” he told The Courier Journal of Louisville in 1984, “because my father was a businessman and many of his friends were businessmen.”

In one of his best-known business cartoons for The New Yorker, Martin drew an executive seated at a desk covered with little notes. “Let me just make a little note of that,” he says to a colleague. “I never seem to get anything done around here unless I make little notes.”

He also illustrated two children’s books, written by his daughter Ann, about two chickens, Fran and Emma: “Fancy Dance in Feather Town” (1988) and “Moving Day in Feather Town” (1989). And he illustrated one of her “Baby-Sitters Club” books, “New York! New York!” (1991).

“We were eager to work together,” Ann Martin wrote in an email. “Not much convincing needed!”

Martin retired in the late 1990s and moved to Newtown. He sketched cartoons for the weekly bulletin of the retirement community where he lived and illustrated cards that were sent to Princeton donors at Thanksgiving from 1997 to 2011.

In addition to his daughters, Martin is survived by a grandson and a sister, Adele Vinsel. His wife, a preschool teacher, died in 2010.

Martin’s boardroom cartoons did not always feature humans in suits; he also included teddy bears (he was a fan of Winnie-the-Pooh) and Uncle Sams.

“In view of our equal opportunity stance,” one Uncle Sam says to six others around a conference table in a 1990 cartoon, “all those in favor of adding an Aunt Sam to the board say, ‘Aye.’”

© 2020 The New York Times Company

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