November 23, 2019

"What to say to one of the masters of the macabre?... [Gahan] Wilson was a star in three places: The New Yorker, Playboy, and National Lampoon..."

"... delivering covers, multi-panel series, and single-panel gags to those majestic peaks of the cartoon-publishing landscape. The title of a 2013 documentary about him, 'Born Dead, Still Weird,' tells us a lot about the man and his work. Weird was his specialty—he thought that way, and he drew that way. Wilson was part of a select group of cartoonists who own their style, who deliver on paper what seems to be a good piece of themselves. It is a distinction shared by, to name just a few, Edward Koren, George Booth, and Roz Chast. The work is somehow inseparable from who they are, and that’s part of what makes it so memorable.... Although he habitually delved into that dark funny corner that we associate with Charles Addams, his style was singular. He liked to depict ordinary folks encountering some kind of anxious terror, or experiencing the unthinkable in mundane places. It’s a man at a pizza counter hovering over an entire pizza—the man’s mouth the same oval shape, the same size, as the whole pie. It’s fishermen on a calm lake, with one about to be murdered by the other, who is removing a human mask to reveal his true monster self."

From the New Yorker tribute to Gahan Wilson, who died on Thursday at the age of 89.


"Well, that was a total waste of time."

More cartoons at the link. And here's that documentary:


Gahan Wilson-Born Dead, Still Weird from Mindy Elliott on Vimeo.

42 comments:

Quaestor said...

Is nothing sacred?

Yep.

Quaestor said...

Gahan Wilson's highest contribution to American macabre humor, founded by Charles Addams, was to blaze the trail for Gary Larson

Temujin said...

Gahan Wilson was great. Another piece of our past slips away. I do think Gary Larson picked up after him, but not in the same macabre way.

I'd forgotten about Gahan Wilson, and he probably forgot about me.

Quaestor said...

Wilson's chief artist problem was his long association with The New Yorker and Playboy, two publications fondly regarded by too many faux-sophisticates and poseurs — Lookee, everybody! I'm entertained by this cartoon showing rapacious aliens wearing human bibs like some idiots wear lobster bibs. Behold my mondaine smirk. Larson, on the other hand, soared too high for typical Playboy reader. There aren't too many jesting coinages that have found a welcoming home in the hard sciences, but if Murray Gell-Man can foist upon us the aridly droll quark, Larson deserves a place beside Linnaeus for thagomizer.
(The "social scientists" are clucking flock of bluestockings and prudes who either blink confoundedly at The Far Side or rip it to pieces vowing grade vengeance on the under-grad who dared to pin one to the departmental bulletin board.)

mockturtle said...

I think my favorite Gahan Wilson cartoon was titled, "Well, we found what's been clogging your chimney since last December, Miss Emmy."

mockturtle said...

Back in the day when the The New Yorker was worth the subscription, I clipped dozens of cartoons, many of Gahan Wilson, and saved them in a box. When I need a few laughs, I get them out.

The Crack Emcee said...

"Well, that was a total waste of time."

It certainly was.

mockturtle said...

And yes, Quaestor, Gary Larson. I clipped hundreds of his cartoons. Classics.

daskol said...

Edward Gorey was pretty good at the macabre too. Re Quaestor: some of Wilson's stuff does have a porto-Larson look to it. I remember discovering the Far Side at friend's house, and collecting all those books: others also liked Calvin and Hobbes or Garfield, but it was only Larson for me.

daskol said...

Never could get into Doonesbury, even though I tried. Probably too young for many of the boomer cultural references.

daskol said...

Richard Scarry sounds like he should have been good at the macabre, but he just drew cute anthropomorphized animals that kids love. Tim Burton's movies remind me of Gorey pictures, while WIlson/Larson and their whimsical rather than gothic macabre remind more of Coen Bros. films.

The Crack Emcee said...

Gahan Wilson was a god, and those who don't know of him were never alive to begin with.

Phil 314 said...

Agree with Questor that Wilson’s greatest gift was to get us ready for Larsen. I liked Wilson’s cartoons but also found them a bit too...

Misanthropic

Ann Althouse said...

Playboy — as I've said many times on this blog — was openly available for everyone to read in the Althouse household in the 1950s and 60s. By far, my favorite part was the Gahan Wilson cartoon. I grew up believing Gahan Wilson was absolutely adored by everyone.

It's not just the ideas and captions. The drawing itself is totally idiosyncratic. You can see it in the signature too — he had a LINE.

Ann Althouse said...

You can look at all the Gahan Wilson Playboy cartoons here.

Ironclad said...

Gahan Wilson did irregular strips for the National Lampoon too - many of which today would have him burned at the stake by SJW snowflakes. Utterly hilarious, utterly rude, and decidedly non-PC.

The New Yorker was too staid a venture for that humor

Howard said...

That's exactly right Q. Nothingness is sacredness sayeth the Dude under the bodhi tree.

rhhardin said...

I knew a very smart guy, famous even, who claimed that he'd never understood a single Far Side cartoon.

For most people it's right up their alley.

Ann Althouse said...

Better yet, buy the 50 Years of Playboy Cartoons by Gahan Wilson collection here at Amazon. I just bought the Kindle version. The photographs at that other link are good but hard to see in that form and beyond fair use of the material.

The hardbound collection (at the link too) is $217 for a 3 volume set. Could be a great gift for the right person if you spend that kind of money on gifts. Wish my father was alive so I could give that to him (and for other reasons!!).

rhhardin said...

Jean Shepherd extolled the woman putting her deceased husband in the trash, "It's not that easy, Mrs. Smith." Just in passing, in the then current Playboy, for which Shep also wrote.

rhhardin said...

Kliban's series on The Turk is a challenge.

BUMBLE BEE said...

My early addiction to Nat Lampoon was due to Mr. Wilson. A favorite was the "Smile" faces collection from I forget where. The Pathologist in the morgue, lifting the sheet so the wife could identify her husband, whose body was covered by Happy Face lesions. Gahan .... a national treasure. Rest in pieces!

Robert Cook said...

"Gahan Wilson's highest contribution to American macabre humor, founded by Charles Addams, was to blaze the trail for Gary Larson."

No, Wilson's highest contribution to American macabre humor was his own work. Larson was funny, but no funnier than Wilson, and he couldn't draw as well. Between the two, give me Wilson.

Ken B said...

Cartoonists who “own their style”? I guess Crumb is not talked about anymore.

mtrobertslaw said...

I read somewhere that Charles Manson created a whole bunch of notebooks filled with his cartoons. He tried to get them published but there were no takers. But that's hard to believe in an era that celebrates weirdness.

Quaestor said...

Larson was funny, but no funnier than Wilson, and he couldn't draw as well.

Given the source, there's a decidedly Larsonian quality to this remark, like two vultures debating the gustatorial quality of a potential corpse.

Intentional, mayhaps?

Nah.

daskol said...

Crumb may have owned his style, but Mark Alan Stamaty borrowed it once in a while. The funniest example is “Who Needs Donuts?” which looks like Crumb but reads more like a Hallmark card, albeit with quirky people saying saccharin things.

daskol said...

If $200+ seems a lot, there is best of collection for much less.

Unknown said...

in the late 60s-70s Gahan Wilson had a cartoon every month in "The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction'. Isaac Asimov had the monthly science column. Those were good times.

Big Mike said...

My all time favorite Gahan Wilson cartoon.

Robert Cook said...

"Crumb may have owned his style, but Mark Alan Stamaty borrowed it once in a while."

What the---?????

I am an ardent admirer of both Stamaty and Crumb. Stamaty's drawing looks nothing like Crumb's. The only commonality is that they both use a tremendous amount of hatching and cross-hatching.

(I was disappointed that the {very welcome} republication of Stamaty's brilliant MacDoodle Street was not published at a larger size, so readers could better examine his detail-packed panels.)

daskol said...

It's the hatching and cross-hatching but even more, it's the way they meticulously draw telephone polls, and trash and other detritus. I think Crumb did that first, although I really like Stamaty's drawings. It's true that his work deserves a large format to be best appreciated.

WhoKnew said...

Unknown beat me to it, I developed my love of Gahan Wilson from the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, which also first published Kilgore Trout's novel

Clyde said...

I read and enjoyed his work in National Lampoon during my misspent youth. The world is a slightly less-weird place by his departure.

Unknown said...

I could be wrong, but I think Wilson may be the only Playboy cartoonist to never draw a naked woman.

Unknown said...

Pretty sure some of his work was in F&SF as well.

BudBrown said...

Yeah, I'll add another cheer for his F&SF work.

ALP said...

I think Gahan Wilson drew what I consider to be THE ultimate cartoon about recycling. It was a full page color image (IIRC) set in Hell (in the New Yorker). A winding path took poor souls past bin after bin of very specific recycling. It has been way too long but the bins had signs along the lines of: red rubber bands intact, red rubber bands broken, magazines I enjoyed, magazines that made me mad, newspapers with grease spots, clean newspaper, paper cups with lipstick...

That was decades ago in the early days of recycling. However it is only NOW that sorting my recycling at our local site has begun to resemble this cartoon. I have to sort into so many bins now it takes around 20 minutes! The first time I went I stood between a bin marked "Catalogs" and another marked "Newspaper" - with a catalog made of newsprint! Oh how prescient Mr. Wilson was. RIP.

And if I am wrong so be it. It was a long time ago.

stephen cooper said...

I always felt sorry for anyone who worked for Playboy, or took a check from Playboy.

I always figured people who worked for Playboy did not have legitimate access to beautiful women and had to do what losers with cash do (if they were male) or were being bullied by others (if they were female). Of course I was right, looking back at it .....

That cartoon is sort of funny, but not all that funny ----- the cartoonist expects us to think that he has some kind of compassion for all the creatures at all the stages, but we all know he never really did, because the humor was a bitter humor and PEOPLE WHO MAKE MONEY OFF OF BITTER HUMOR ARE sad people === to be fair , generally NOT lacking compassion under the totality of circumstances, but generally lacking the type of compassion that GOD WANTS ALL OF US TO HAVE FOR EACH OTHER (sorry, Gahan ..... sorry).

Still, I hope that Gahan Wilson had a good life, he seems like a good kind of loser, and I hope that he experienced all the love and all the happiness that I wish every decent person experiences in this world.

William said...

I guess there's a line from Hogarth to Cruikshank to Dore to Addams. Perhaps Wilson will be part of it. Still, he never inspired a television series or illustrated any great books. Eleanor Roosevelt looks a bit like a Wilson cartoon, but he doesn't seem to have been political. Perhaps if he had illustrated some of Hillary's books he would have a better claim on posterity, but he turned down the commission.

mockturtle said...

Stephen Cooper bleats: Still, I hope that Gahan Wilson had a good life, he seems like a good kind of loser, and I hope that he experienced all the love and all the happiness that I wish every decent person experiences in this world.

How very generous of you.

Nichevo said...

One thing about Coop is that he seems to be down on everybody. It's not an attractive trait. Steve, are there maybe a few people you LIKE?