An Interview With My Father, Cartoonist Henry Martin
Hi, readers! One of the most important decisions I ever made was to leave my editorial job at a publishing company and become a freelance writer. Although I was a little nervous about giving up the security of a regular paycheck, I felt ready and eager to focus on my writing full-time. I was lucky in that I had a wonderful role model to emulate – my father, cartoonist and illustrator Henry Martin. My father was a self-employed artist who rented a little studio in Princeton, New Jersey, where he went every day for many years to create cartoons and illustrations to sell to magazines and other publications. His work ethic, along with his entrepreneurial spirit and determination to succeed in his chosen profession, made a lasting impact on me and my own career choices. He's now retired after almost a half-century of work. I thought it would be fun to share the story of how he found a way to spend a lifetime doing what he loved.
Tell us about your early life.
I was born on July 15, 1925, in Louisville, Kentucky, to Lyman and Adele Martin. My Kentucky-born father was a World War I veteran and businessman who moved to Louisville after marrying my mother. My mother was born and raised in Arkansas and attended the Kentucky College for Women, which is now called Centre College. (By the way, it was very unusual for a woman to be a college graduate during the early 1900s, but my mother was an unusual woman!) I grew up with my older brother Lyman Jr. and my younger sister Adele.
What schools did you attend?
I attended elementary and junior high school in Louisville. My high school years were spent at a prep school in Dallas, Texas. I graduated from Princeton University with a degree in Art History, after which I attended the American Academy of Art in Chicago.
As a child, what were your interests?
I lived in a great neighborhood with lots of other kids, and we enjoyed putting on shows and circuses. I also loved magic and magic tricks and was an amateur magician. But my main interest was always drawing.
When did you first realize that you had an interest in drawing?
I remember (quite clearly!) being four years old and knowing that I wanted to draw.
Who encouraged your interest?
My parents were extremely supportive of my interest in drawing. They encouraged me to sign up for every art class that I could while in school. After school and on weekends, I attended a local art school that offered classes free of charge, and I was also fortunate to be able to take private art classes over the years. I had some terrific, encouraging teachers.
When did you start to believe that you could have a career in drawing?
I was fifteen years old when I decided that this was what I wanted to do with my life. In addition to my coursework and after school lessons, I worked on my school newspapers and yearbooks, contributing artwork and illustrations. 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.
How did you start working with The New Yorker magazine?
I was married and living in Princeton, New Jersey, where I rented a little office downtown just off the main street. I supported my family by selling cartoons and illustrations to various magazines and taking on odd jobs (for example, painting a mural on the wall of a local store!). I was regularly selling small spot drawings to The New Yorker magazine, but I had a greater goal in mind, and that was to publish cartoons in The New Yorker. I'd been a dedicated reader of The New Yorker since I was a young boy, and I knew that getting published in this magazine was considered to be the pinnacle of anyone's cartooning career.
To help achieve this goal, I challenged myself to submit twenty cartoons a week, every week, to The New Yorker. I did this without fail for four years, and every single cartoon was turned down.
And then one day it finally happened – The New Yorker accepted one of my cartoons.
My relationship with The New Yorker would last for over forty-five years. I estimate that I eventually had over 600 cartoons published in the magazine. I believe that this wouldn't have happened without my determination to stay positive, even in the face of rejection, and to keep working at my craft until I achieved my goal.
In 2010, I donated all of my original drawings and illustrations from my years at The New Yorker to my alma mater, Princeton University, where they are beautifully archived for anyone to see.
Do you have any advice to share with kids who are discovering their own talents and passions?
Quite simply, if you find something you love to do, work at it as much as possible. Take advantage of every opportunity you have to learn more and to improve. I attribute my own success first to the people who supported me when I was young, and then to my persistence as a struggling young cartoonist with a goal that I could work towards.
I'm very proud of everything my father has accomplished in his career, and grateful to have inherited even a little of his creativity! With his support and encouragement, and with his example to follow, I consider myself one of those lucky people who has been able to have a career doing the work that I love.
P.S. Check out the illustrations my father did for Baby-sitters Super Special #6: New York, New York! (This will always be my favorite Super Special!)