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John Martz is a cartoonist, illustrator, and designer living in Toronto, Canada. He has done work for Yahoo!, CTV, Hallmark, Scholastic, Macleans Magazine, Chick-a-Dee Magazine, and others. He is also the editor of the popular cartooning and illustration blog Drawn!, a daily destination for thousands of creative individuals.


When did you first decide to become a graphic designer/ illustrator? Was there a pivotal moment?

I think it was a pretty natural transition. I always knew I wanted to be a cartoonist, and I was lucky enough to have parents that always encouraged it. I think I read every book on cartooning from the local library at least three times.

One summer my mom enrolled me in a computer animation summer camp, where we learned to use Autodesk Animator ( ) and it totally blew my mind. I can remember creating a bouncing ball using "squash and stretch" which I read about in that big Disney book The Illusion of Life, and the instructor asking how I knew to do that. I remember spending all my paper route money on buying the software; which was probably hundreds of dollars.

So I had been using the computer to create art since I was a young kid. When we upgraded to Windows 3.1 and got CorelDRAW, that's when I discovered the program could export artwork as TrueType fonts, and I began to design and create my own typefaces in high school.

Once in highschool, I eventually became the editor of the school paper, but to me the job was exciting not because of any editorial duties, but because I got to do the design and layout of the paper (and fill it with my cartoons).

When graduation hit, I had applied to college for both graphic design, illustration, and animation. I think I was hoping to go to school for animation, but I remember submitting my application in late, and not getting in, so the decision of where to go to school was sort of made up for me by my own carelessness, and I ended up studying graphic design.

Who or what inspires you?
My list of creative influences grows and changes each day, especially thanks to Drawn!, but some of my biggest influences are Charles Schulz, Jim Henson, Richard Scarry, MAD Magazine, Chuck Jones, B. Kliban, Jack Ziegler, the Marx Brothers, Woody Allen, Dr. Seuss, Rankin-Bass specials, Hanna-Barbera...

I'm also a bit of a bibliophile, and buy more books than I often have time to read. My bookshelves are loaded with design, cartooning, animation, illustration, and comics-related books. (library here: There's nothing I love more than browsing a used book store and finding some hidden treasure.

Where does your training come from? Self-taught? College/Art School?

As mentioned above, I studied graphic design. Illustration-wise I'm self-taught, having read countless books on cartooning and animation as a kid, but I think my design education has been invaluable to my illustration career and that my skills as an artist are greater for having learned design principles and things like hand-drawn typography.

How do you keep "fresh" within your industry?

If by keeping fresh, you mean keeping up with trends, I'm not that sure I do. And I think that's a bit of a bad thing anyhow. I create for myself, primarily. I think creating, and reading Drawn! every day keeps my inspired and aware of what's going on with other illustrators and designers. It's natural to absorb and adopt from others, so I can only hope that what I create is a natural composite of my own aesthetics and everything else that inspires me.

What are some of your current projects?
My most recent fun project was for the Space channel here in Canada (think Sci Fi network). The channel is playing a marathon of superhero movies on Christmas day, and I was involved in creating all the promotional design and animation.

It was a lot of work, but an incredibly fun project in which I got to hand-letter all the type and create a series of animated illustrations in AfterEffects with Santa Claus as a superhero.

I'm also currently working on some more animated work for Chef Boyardee, for which I'm just providing the character design, and it involves kids and monsters, which is one of my favourite combos.

Which of your projects are you the most proud of? And why?

I don't know really. I recently completed a comics/illustration project which had me recreate my mom's 1968 high school yearbook as a series of drawings... It's about 80 pages consisting of over 1,000 mini caricatures. If anything I'm proud I even finished it! I'll be posting the entire thing online, and selling copies once my site relaunches in the new year.

I'm also pretty happy with my recent batch of warm-up drawings ( ) since they are the result of pure doodling, and one of the most uninhibited creative things I've done in along while.

Are there any areas, techniques, mediums, projects in your field that you have yet to try?

I'd love to try my hand at screen printing. I think my style and my love of typography would suit the medium quite well.

Any advice to the novice designer/ illustrator?

Never stop having fun. Once you stop having fun, it becomes a job, and jobs are boring. When things get boring or start stagnating, you're doing something wrong. Keep playing, keep trying new things, never stop doodling or experimenting.

What makes a designed piece or illustration successful?

My final year design teacher told me the secret to creating good design, which I try to apply to my illustration and cartooning work. He said, as long as you have two things -- contrast and dimension -- you can't fail.

Obviously there's more to it than that, but my work is consistently better when I keep that bit of advice in mind.

What do you do to keep yourself motivated and avoid burn-out?

I always have a sketchbook on the go, and need to draw in it constantly. It's also good to just get away from the studio for a bit. I'm writing this from a local coffee shop, but anything helps to just avoid the blahs of being at work all day long -- browsing a used book store, catching a movie, even just a quick walk with the iPod can help recharge my batteries.

Finish this sentence. "If I weren't a designer/illustrator I would have been a..."

Hmm... In high school I was fascinated by movie special effects, and watched all sorts of specials and videos on the behind-the-scenes stuff. Back then that stuff was hard to find because there weren't any DVDs with bonus features yet. And this was, of course, pre-CGI, so everything was a combination of matte paintings, animation, pyrotechnics, electronics, and puppetry which seemed like the most brilliant marriage of everything that interested me as a teenager.

And finally, what is the best thing on prime-time TV right now?

Boston Legal. Hands down.


Unknown said...

wonderful post!!

Daniel Edmundson said...

John Martz is a brilliant illustrator!!! And else, he is part of Drawn! that is great.

Valerie said...

I really enjoyed reading this! thanks!

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