Created by Don Martin
Billed as “MAD Magazine‘s Maddest Artist,” Don Martin’s long tenure there (thirty years!) was marked by his his outrageously surreal cartoons, featuring the humungous schnozzes, large hinged feet, sleepy eyes, unfortunate body hair and elastic and seemingly indestructible bodies of his oddly-named characters and the cacophony of bizarre sound effects that filled his stories.
Many of his stories in MAD, often only a page or two, were wild sight gags, full of slapstick humour and distorted wordplay that zigged and zagged between reality and a place where the laws of physics and nature itself need not apply.
So popular was his absurd and anarchic worldview that he developed a lucrative sideline pumping out a string of paperbacks, crammed with original strips that had never appeared in the magazine, which allowed him to tell longer tales and to feature recurring characters, including the superhero spoof-adventures of Captain Klutz, as well as the equally tongue-in-cheek cases of…
FESTER BESTERTESTER, PRIVATE EYE!
Hard-boiled (and apparently clueless) Fester, suitably attired in rumpled trench coat, fedora, five o’clock shadow and a perpetual cigarette jammed in his maw, appeared in several of Martin’s books (I’m not sure how many… I’m still trying to track them all down), and they’re so jammed with insanity that it’s hard to describe them. Suffice to say that “The Letter,” for example, which appeared in 1965’s Mad’s Maddest Artist Don Martin Drops 13 Stories is your basic parody of about a million private eye tales, lampooning every trope of the genre you can imagine… plus a few that may have come from another dimension.
“The Letter” includes two “tough babies” in actual diapers; a chubby, possibly malicious kid with a mallet who lives above Fester’s suitably shabby office; a blonde femme fatale named Lauren Lipschitz in leopard skin slacks and high heels; a Fat Man who isn’t (thanks to a steambath addiction); an actual gorilla who acts as hired muscle, a stirring patriotic speech that plays out like ersatz Spillane, fish-throwing, a warped explanation of the crime straight outta Hammett, and the ill-fated Frankie the Kid who staggers into Fester’s office with multiple knives in his torso and a cleaver in his head to deliver a vital clue with his last breath, only to crawl in later in the story still not dead, with even more weaponry imbedded in his body (including arrows, a few spears and swords) to deliver the titular letter, before the world falls in on Fester. And all played out to an orgy of oddly onomatopoeic sound effects that includ such Martinesque:
- WINKITY WINK-BLINK!
What’s not to love?
But just between us girls, as mind-bending as the Bestertester stories are, his tales featuring Lance Parkertip, may be even more bizarre, given that Lance is a hard-boiled Notary Public (!) who wields his stamp the way Mike Hammer wields a .45.
BY THE WAY…
- Fester Bestertester, Private Eye shouldn’t be confused with Don Martin’s other Fester Bestertester (There’s two??? On the same planet???) who appeared in a series of stories with his extra-large-sized buddy, Karbunkle. I guess Martin just liked the name… I’m still trying to sort out this embarrassment of of Bestertesters. Some of the stories listed below may be about that other Bestertester…
- “National Gorilla Day” (1963, Mad’s Maddest Artist Don Martin Bounces Back) | Buy this book
- “The Hardest Head in the World” (1963, Mad’s Maddest Artist Don Martin Bounces Back) | Buy this book
- “The Letter” (1965, Mad’s Maddest Artist Don Martin Drops 13 Stories) | Buy this book