Sixty years later, the prolific cartoonist has donated nearly 700 original drawings to the University, adding to a collection of Martin originals that already numbered in the thousands.
Martin agreed to donate his drawings to the University after allowing his two daughters to select their favorites. “I’m getting old ... so I donated my drawings to someone who would appreciate them,” he explained.
A rapid rise to the top
With the solemnity of World War II a year behind him, Martin joined a friend to relaunch a student humor magazine, The Princeton Tiger, during his junior year. Though he had drawn for his high school newspaper and yearbook, “The Tiger really got me started,” he said.
After graduating with a major in art and archaeology, Martin spent two years at the American Academy of Art in Chicago. While refining his skills as a professional cartoonist, he began submitting roughly 20 of his drawings to The New Yorker each week. Less than a year later, the magazine published its first Martin drawing.
After graduating from art school, Martin moved back to Princeton, where he spent five days a week brainstorming and drawing from his home on William Street, venturing once each week to The New Yorker office.
In 25 years drawing for The New Yorker as a contract artist, Martin submitted stacks of cartoons each year, though he said that “99 percent” of his cartoons were not published.
“In all my years there, I don’t think I ever sold more than 35 cartoons a year,” he explained. “But you have to remember that The New Yorker received about 2,000 cartoons a week and would buy about 20–22 cartoons a week,” Martin said. Martin would then try to sell the remaining cartoons to other publications, such as Punch and The Saturday Evening Post.
Images built on ideas
The artist’s satisfaction came from the creative process, rather than just the end result.
“As time went on, I found that I enjoyed more and more getting the idea than I did the drawing ... And that really is part of cartooning,” Martin explained. “There’s a saying that goes, ‘A bad idea will not be carried by a good drawing, but a good idea can be usually carried by a not very good drawing.’ ”
The New Yorker recognized Martin’s penchant for crisp ideas by regularly publishing his drawings with his original captions, though that was “the exception, not the rule,” said Julie Mellby, the University’s graphic arts librarian, explaining that editors would rewrite captions for most artists.
Mellby characterized Martin’s images as “surprisingly mild due to contemporary taste,” explaining that “Henry never made fun of somebody. He was just funny. Some people are great artists. Some are great writers. Henry was both.”
David Reeves ’48 said that his former classmate’s cartoons reflect his personality, which Reeves described in a word as “benign,” since “[Martin] doesn’t have a mean bone in his body ... He doesn’t know how to be unkind.”
Martin balanced sophistication with simplicity, Mellby added, explaining that “Sometimes you don’t even need the captions with his cartoons.”
As an illustrator and cartoonist for more than half a century — continuing to work after leaving The New Yorker — he drew about a wide range of topics. In his drawings, Martin often returned to two topics: business and the University.
“My father was a businessman, and I guess I knew that world a little bit,” he explained, while he drew about the University because The New Yorker’s readers “would know what Princeton was.”
“I guess Princeton I think of as a fairly sophisticated place, and it’s a sophisticated school, and The New Yorker is a sophisticated magazine, so it’s sort of a good fit,” he explained.
Though most famous for his cartoons in The New Yorker, Martin also had a nationally syndicated cartoon strip about business called “Good News/Bad News,” which ran for roughly 20 years, and illustrated and authored more than 35 books. He even collaborated with his daughter, Ann M. Martin, to illustrate two books in the “The Baby-sitters Club” series.
Martin’s fame also earned him invitations to dine with the cream of the literary world at Punch’s Mahogany Table, Mellby noted, where “only the elite, only the big insiders were invited to lunch.”
Reeves said that Martin has not been affected by fame. “He’s more concerned with his family, with his friends, with his human relationships, which are very profound. A good many people consider Henry Martin as their best friend.”
Martin’s “phenomenal gift” solidifies the University’s already impressive collection, Mellby said. “This is American literary history right here.”
In retirement, Martin also contributes to the University by drawing for Princeton Alumni Weekly, as well as an annual thank you note cartoon for the Office of Development.