It was a cartoon in a transit paper — not this one — years ago. A mummy was talking to the ticket-taker at the Toronto subway’s Museum station, the one near the Royal Ontario Museum.
“One senior, please,” the caption said.
That’s one of Martin Baker’s one-liners. He’s been mostly making a living off this humour, which leans towards puns, for the last 20 years.
As a child, he loved making jokes and playing with words. It didn’t seem relevant for a career. He eventually found work in libraries. But two decades ago Baker thought it was time to figure out what he really wanted to do. He picked up the book Wishcraft by Barbara Sher. It helped him better analyze what he was really passionate about.
And that was humour.
Baker started writing jokes in his spare time, and started selling his work. He read some books on comedy, did stand-up and had a successful Theatresports team, Stairway to 7-Eleven.
He was able to eventually quit his library job, but has taken up work on and off over the years to supplement the writing.
Mostly, Baker, now 48, helps out syndicated cartoonists when they’re overly busy or need ideas. He gets connected through the syndicate service, by digging up their email addresses or through contacts. He once wrote for a cartoon five days a week. Now, the work varies from once a week to occasionally.
Contributing mainly to one-panel cartoons, not those with regular characters, he morphs his style to suit the comic. “If you’re adaptable, it’s easier to get hired.”
He’s also written slogans for corporate and non-profit clients (one environmental group: “Things are looking up for solar power”), and has written clever lines for newspaper and magazines too.
On the average day, Baker spends the morning emailing and calling potential writing contacts and updating his blog. A few afternoons a week he goes out and volunteers.
In the evening, he pulls out a notebook, dictionary and thesaurus and writes. He likes to play off everyday phrases and clichés. He has about 3,000 jokes and ideas in his collection of notebooks.
He’s always trying to find new clients to write for (he’d love to break into greeting cards, but that’s tough). And he’d love to find a system for transferring all his material onto computer so it’s easier to find.
As for actually drawing some of those cartoons he helps out with? No way, he’s a writer.
“If I could draw I’d probably be a millionaire by now.”
Diane Peters once hawked magic pens at the Canadian National Exhibition. She’s now a writer and part-time journalism instructor.