A longtime Lake Geneva area resident, Joe Martin said his cartoon career began with misinformation.
“My friend told me his uncle was the comics editor at the Chicago Sun-Times,” Martin said. “I told him I was going to do a comic strip and send it to (his) uncle. It took me six months to put together a full six weeks of jokes. I brought it to my friend. He said, well, I didn’t realize it but my uncle isn’t the editor. He’s a dispatcher for the trucks.”
Martin said he decided to send the work to the newspaper anyway.
“I just said, oh, well, it’s done, and I mailed it,” he said. “The odds of anyone reading it was ten thousand to one, but they had a brand new editor there, and he accepted my comic.”
It took another year before Martin’s first comic was published.
“Really, I wouldn’t be a cartoonist if that guy hadn’t told me his uncle was the editor,” he said. “I’d still be running my employment agency.”
Now, Martin draws seven comic strips for newspapers across the country, and according to the Guinness Book of World Records, he is the world’s most prolific comic strip artist.
He creates more than 1,300 comics each year. His comic strips include Mister Boffo, Cats with Hands, Willy ‘n Ethel and Porterfield.
Martin said he fills two or three notebooks with notes and jokes a week. He gets about 26 jokes out of that.
“You have to write every single day,” Martin said. “If I don’t write for even a day, it’s hard to get a joke the next day.”
Though he spends hours each morning writing jokes, he doesn’t call it work.
“I’m one of those crazy people that earn money without really working,” Martin said. “I have one of those jobs that’s not really a job. I’d do it for nothing. I did it for nothing for years.”
Martin said before his comics were accepted at the Sun-Times, he sent comics to magazines weekly.
“I was 27 years old,” he said. “Every week, I would send out jokes to the magazines. I had done that for 16 years. I would send something. I never got any acceptance. I got a lot of rejection letters where they’d ask me to never send them anything again.”
Martin’s first comic strip was about a man who ran an employment agency.
“I wrote the jokes about myself instead of the off-the-wall things I didn’t have an understanding of,” he said.
Today, 90 percent of his jokes are based on real-life situations.
“I sit around Starbucks, and I listen to people’s conversations,” Martin said. “I take little snippets from one person and mix that with another person’s. Then I end up with a joke.”
Many of his characters are based on exaggerated versions of himself.
“Characters really turn out to be warped versions of yourself,” Martin said. “I think all writers do that. They kind of project themselves in their characters. Boffo is the crazy version of myself.”
Boffo is the main character in Martin’s long-running Mister Boffo comic strip.
“Boffo is always working some plan or thinking someone is conspiring against him. That’s the crazy side of me,” he said. “His dog is looking out at the audience thinking this guy is crazy.”
Often Martin will turn a sour situation in his own life into a comic.
“I write a lot of jokes where I get even,” he said. “I was on hold recently with Time Warner for about an hour and half. I have a joke coming up about the best thing to chew when your Time Warner correspondent comes back.”
Even his lawyer is not exempt from his comic strip jokes.
“This is a great joke,” Martin said. “I recently sold a house, and the lawyer at the closing charged me $575. He didn’t do anything at all. I called and asked him why. He explained why he didn’t do anything, then he sent me a bill for $175 for explaining why he didn’t do anything.”
This same situation shows up in Mr. Boffo’s strip.
“Boffo’s friend says, ‘Imagine what he would have charged you if he did something’,” Martin said. “That’s all based on a real-life experience.”
One of the keys to Martin’s success is his ability to laugh at life.
“You have to look at everything in life with a little sense of humor and twist it around,” he said. “I write 26 jokes a week. I have to find humor about every minute and a half of the day.”
He never has to fight with writer’s block, either.
“All day long, I think I’m writing the funniest jokes in the world,” he said.
“Then I get home, and I go over these jokes with my wife at the end of the day. That’s when I find out that I didn’t write anything funny. In effect, I probably had writer’s block, but I didn’t know it.”
His syndication company, Neatly Chiseled Features, also offers animated comic strips to newspapers.
Using a smartphone QR code scanner, newspaper readers can see and hear a comic strip in action.
“We’re the first ones, the only ones, to do that,” Martin said.
Martin has musical talents along with his humor.
“My focus right now is on music,” he said. “Tell the readers to listen to my Christmas song. It’s on YouTube. It’s called ‘My Dream of Christmas’ and subtitled ‘Five Naked Ladies’.”
The video is an animated version of the Mr. Boffo comic, and Martin sings an original song.
“The reason I have all these songs is because before I write my jokes every day, I loosen up by writing and singing some songs,” Martin said. “So in addition to writing 40,000 jokes, I also probably have about 20,000 songs. I’m waiting for someone to tell me his uncle is a producer at a record label.”