A picture is worth a thousand words—it’s true, and also makes difficult work of reviewing a book of cartoons. Take, for example, Demetri Martin’s drawing of a mountain view with a sign in front that reads “Scenic View” with braille underneath. It’s certainly less funny when I describe it, but really does contain all the fun of flipping through a book of Gary Larson’s “Far Side” comics from the 1990s. Martin’s comedy is very charming. Like Ellen, or Jerry Seinfeld, he reminds us of the absurdity of everyday life—like the phrase “training bra” or self-flushing toilets. Judging by his too-short-lived television series, he’s got a fondness for paper and pen. Martin displays nothing short of glee as he stands next to a large pad of paper flipping through image and word combinations. One-liners from his comedy routines (“If I owned a copy store, I would only hire identical twins to work at it”) are the sort of thing that translate easily to book format. Venn diagrams, Q&As, graphs and illustrated mechanisms are all fodder for his simple but ingenious drawings. He’s not above the occasional fart joke, so there’s nothing too precious going on, despite a cartoon or two about the perception of fame in New York versus Los Angeles, or how the ubiquitous sight of planes and helicopters around a city resembles flies around a pile of shit. Practically every page is a showcase for his particular wit, a moment to examine, pause, smile. Or, if you’re more cynical, each page says, “Ha, ha, ha! Look how clever I am!”
Martin, a wordsmith, titles his work with droll obviousness. “This is a Book” was a collection of clever drawings and very short stories. One of his comedy recordings is called “These are Jokes.” His special on Comedy Central was called “Demetri Martin. Person.” He’s not Louis CK or Chris Rock, he’s more like the smartest guy in your college dorm. He’s not the sort of comic that elicits sidesplitting laughter, but more like appreciative chuckling. Martin’s also managed to turn his shaggy hairstyle and distinctive profile into an easily recognizable brand in his drawings. Those thick bangs and triangular nose signify a self-portrait in his work. At the risk of over-analyzing a book of cartoons, he betrays a hidden melancholy of the funny man. How else to interpret an image of Martin on stage with a switch on his back that has two options: “on” and “sad”? He has a talent for telling a rich story with the most basic elements, like a set of feet that perfectly describe the trajectory of a relationship. The long-form writing from “This is a Book” is missed—that remarkable multi-page palindrome was a standout for word-lovers. But, it’s hard to deny the beautiful simplicity of a zombie about to step on a banana peel. (Kelly Roark)
“Point Your Face At This”
By Demetri Martin
Grand Central Publishing, 288 pages, $12.99
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