Past masters: Mark your calendars. January 31st is National Gorilla Suit Day.

Image from lewiswaynegallery.com

Image from dialbforblog.com

I’ve written before about how Mad Magazine shaped my early moral judgments, much to the dismay of my dear mother. And no contributor to Mad made me laugh harder than Mad’s Maddest Artist, Don Martin. He created his most memorable work for Mad, then left in a dispute over creative rights. He worked briefly for Mad’s rival humor mag Cracked, then tried his luck as an indie publisher.

Wikipedia has this to say about Martin’s work:

His characters often had ridiculous, rhyming names such as Fester Bestertester or Fonebone (which was expanded to Freenbean I. Fonebone in at least one strip), as well as Lance Parkertip, Noted Notary Public. In (his) middle period, Martin created some of his most absurdist work—for example, “National Gorilla Suit Day” – an extended narrative in which a hapless character is violently assaulted by a series of attackers in various disguises, including men dressed as gorillas and gorillas dressed as men. His unique cartooning style gave an uncanny visual depth and dimension to his hilarious scenes and off-the-wall textual sound effects.

Charles Taylor wrote the definitive description of Martin’s work in The Portland Phoenix:

Don Martin’s work for Mad…is instantly recognizable. His people are big-nosed schmoes with sleepy eyes, puffs of wiry hair, and what appear to be life preservers under the waistline of their clothes. Their hands make delicate little mincing gestures and their strangely thin, elongated feet take a 90-degree turn at the toes as they step forward. Whether they’re average Joes or headhunters, Martin’s people share the same physique: a tottering tower of obloids. Martin puts the bodies of these characters through every kind of permutation, treating them as much like gadgets as the squirting flowers and joy buzzers that populate his gags: glass eyes pop out from a pat on the back; heads are steamrollered into manhole-cover shapes. All of this accompanied by a Dadaist panoply of sound effects found nowhere else: shtoink! shklorp! fwoba-dap! It’s unlikely Samuel Beckett was aware of Don Martin, but had he been he might have recognized a kindred spirit. They both appreciate the jokes our bodies play on us; that fate is the squirting flower ready to shpritz us in the face. The difference is no one ever peed their pants watching “Waiting for Godot.”

Image from madcoversite.com

The sound effects, definitely. Let me just say that Don Martin sound effects took on new life in my college years. My roommate Hoky and I repurposed Martin’s efforts in ways he probably never imagined. Three very specific examples are “poot” and “sprazz” and “blort,” but the less said about those the better.

No single Martin strip makes me laugh harder, though, than “National Gorilla Suit Day.” It’s almost like a Bach fugue or an Escher drawing in its brilliant repetition. From Wikipedia:

Taking their cue from one of Martin’s more celebrated stories, “National Gorilla Suit Day,” fans have celebrated National Gorilla Suit Day by wearing gorilla suits on January 31st. No specific date is given in the story, which appeared in the 1963 paperback book “Don Martin Bounces Back.”

Don Martin passed away in 2000. To say he inspired thousands of kids is a huge understatement. Here, in its entirety, is “National Gorilla Suit Day.”

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One Comment on “Past masters: Mark your calendars. January 31st is National Gorilla Suit Day.”

  1. Thank you for the great article and remembering a great holiday like National Gorilla Suit Day.


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