Tooning in with Mart Ford
As told to Dave Beachley
My dad was an artist. He was a construction worker by trade, but as far as my brother Rod and I were concerned, he was a cartoonist and a painter. We lived in a little-bitty house, so my brother and I were in the same bedroom. Dad would use crayons and draw murals on our walls. It was all nature scenes… fighting stallions, mountain lions attacking deer, that kind of stuff. We grew up where painting on our walls was okay, but not necessarily if Rod or I did it! When I was very young, I drew a lot and I built model cars. Since I grew up in the 1960s, I was impacted by the rise of the hot rod world and Walt Disney.For me, two entities came together then – Disney and Mickey Mouse and Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, a legend in the world of hot rod cartooning, and his main character, Rat Fink. I started following Ed Roth and his work, and I thought, ‘I can do that,’… and the cartooning phase began.
In the mid-1970s, the era of the Bronco’s ‘Orange Crush’, there were many opportunities for custom painting for hot rods. I worked at Ball from 1972 to 1975 before setting out on my own for a few years. I was getting a reputation at car shows for my custom paint jobs. But when the babies started coming, I made the decision to go back to Ball in 1980, and continue to do my painting on the side.
Everything was great. At Ball, I was doing a lot of proposal art, such as drawing boxes, charts, and diagrams back when everything was hand-drawn. On the weekends I was busy with auto shows, murals and other projects. There wasn’t a lot of competition at that time, so the side jobs were still pretty lucrative.
I also started getting asked to do retirement cartoons, which I modeled on the TV show, “This is Your Life.” On the show, friends would tell little-known or embarrassing moments about a person. When word got around I was doing a retirement cartoon, I’d get a huge response for story inputs from friends and co-workers of the retiree.
At some point, the folks at Ball’s can manufacturing plant in Golden found out about my art work and my cartooning. They asked me to help pep up their annual financial meeting presentations. I got to create cartoons for each page and they would build message content around them. I did this for several years.
Around this time, my co-worker Jim Snow and I had this idea about creating a ‘Skunk Works’ at Ball for art, modeling and that sort of thing. The original idea was to build models out of paper. Jimmy would make the models, and I would do cartoons and illustration work. But I got laid off from Ball in 1993 before Jimmy and I could make it happen.
I spent several years working for an injection molding company before returning to Ball in 2003. While I was gone, Jimmy had created the ‘Skunk Works’ – now known as the Model Shop - that we both had dreamt of. The shop now had a lot of technology – printers, laser cutters, computers, and other things. I knew in a heartbeat that these were all the ingredients for serious fun. I remember thinking, ‘Are you kidding me? Are we getting paid to do this?!’
Outside of work, in my other life around hot rod cartooning, people know me as Madd Dogg. I sign my hand pin striping and mural work on motorcycles, hot rods, cars, and vans with my initial ‘MFord.' The automotive “artwork” industry that I used to know has changed a lot, but I still do a fair amount of pin striping and an occasional customer airbrush mural on cars and motorcycles. Here's my personal website, if you'd like to see more.