Demetri Martin
Point Your Face at This
Grand Central Publishing

By Nick A. Zaino III

Demetri Martin has a remarkably clear voice. Whatever he’s doing onstage or in print, playing guitar or drawing humorous cartoons, that sedated silliness remains. It’s a strange experience, reading something like Point your Face at This, Martin’s second book of cartoon art, and hearing that voice even when there are no words. It helps that Martin incorporates different media in his live act, and also did so on his short-lived Comedy Central show, Important Things. A book of Martin’s creations doesn’t seem so much a sideline, as it might with other acts, as a natural extension of what he already does. It will feel familiar to fans the first time they pick it up.

demetri martin

Martin draws himself into some of his cartoons. In one he’s standing in front of an audience, positioned so they can’t see the switch on his back. There is no “Off” position – only “On” and “Sad.” That could just be a general comment on the whole “sad clown” aspect of stand-up comedy, but it’s also more sentimental than anything you’re likely to hear from Martin onstage. He’s also rarely political, but here there’s an image of a man whose outline looks like a faceless Martin. Over his right shoulder rests an angel; over his left, the Republican elephant and Democratic donkey. These aren’t common themes throughout the book, but they are worth noting as things Martin feels more comfortable expressing in his illustrations than verbally on a stand-up stage.

The simple construction of the drawings is reminiscent of James Thurber, appropriate since it’s easy to imagine Martin having a Walter Mitty-like inner life. These could be the thoughts running through his head while everyone else at the table is talking up a storm. And they can be incredibly subtle: One is just a black mass of scribbling. The joke is in the bottom right-hand corner, where he has drawn trademark and copyright symbols. There is also a two-page visual joke, forty skulls that look exactly alike, all labeled “doctor” or “drummer” or “atheist” or “bishop,” until the last one, marked “you.” On a personal note, one drawing shows a giant man with a bag over his head getting ready to launch a mighty kick, and a tiny person on crutches in his path, offering a box tied with a bow. The giant is labeled “Critic,” the tiny person “Artist.”

There are a lot of charts and diagrams, a lot of wordplay, and a lot of visual puns. One pie chart is merely a big circle labeled “Timing.” A Venn diagram shows the “Interest in Picnics” intersection between ants, bears and people. One  picture denotes either a button or a “Disappointing pepperoni pizza.” It’s all clever, most of it offbeat, and a lot of it worth a second or third look. Reading it feels like nothing less than watching Martin perform a good set.

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