Friday, November 6, 2009

Gahan Wilson: 50 Years of Playboy Cartoons


Fifty-one, to be exact, but let’s not quibble. Gahan Wilson
is among the most popular, widely-read, and beloved
cartoonists in the history of the medium, whose career spans
the 2nd half of the 20th century, and all of the 21st. His work
has been seen by millions —no, hundreds of millions— in the
pages of Playboy, The New Yorker, Punch, The National
Lampoon, and many other magazines; there is no telling, really,
how many readers he has corrupted or comforted. He is
revered for his playfully sinister take on childhood, adulthood,
men, women, and monsters. His brand of humor makes you
laugh until you cry. And it’s about time that a collection of his
cartoons was published that did justice to his vast body of work.

When Gahan Wilson walked into Hugh Hefner’s office in 1957, he
sat down as Hefner was on the phone, gently rejecting a
submission to his new gentlemen’s magazine: “I think it’s very
well-written and I liked it very much,” Hefner reportedly said,
“but it’s anti-sin. And I’m afraid we’re pro-sin.” Wilson knew,
at that moment, that he had found a kin- dred spirit and a
potential home for his cartoons. And indeed he had; Wilson
appeared in every issue of Playboy from the December 1957
issue to today. It has been one of the most fruitful, successful,
and long-lived relationships between a contributor and a
magazine, ever.

Gahan Wilson: 50 Years of Playboy Cartoons features not only
every cartoon Wilson drew for Playboy, but all his prose fiction
that has appeared in that magazine as well, from his first story
in the June, 1962 issue, “Horror Trio,” to such classics as
Dracula Country” (September 1978). It also includes the text-
and-art features he drew for Playboy, such as his look at Madame
Tussaud’s Wax Museum, his take on our country’s “pathology of
violence,” and his appreciation of “transplant surgery.”

Wilson’s notoriously black sense of comedy is on display
throughout the book, leaving no sacred cow unturned (an
image curiously absent in the book), ridiculing everything
from state sponsored executions to the sober precincts of
the nouveau rich, from teenage dating to police line-ups,
with scalding and hilarious satirical jabs. Although Wilson is
known as an artist who relishes the creepy side of modern life,
this three-volume set truly demonstrates the depth and breadth
of his range — from illustrating private angst we never knew we
had (when you eat a steak, just whom are you eating?) to the
ironic and deadpan take on horrifying public issues (ecological
disaster, nuclear destruction anyone?).

Gahan Wilson has been peeling back the troubling layers of
modern life with his incongruously playful and unnerv- ing
cartoons, assailing our deepest fears and our most inane follies.
This three-volume set is a testament to one of the funniest —
and wickedly disturbing — cartoonists alive.

Gahan Wilson (born February 18, 1930) is an author, cartoonist,
and illustrator in the United States. His cartoons and illustrations
are drawn in a playfully grotesque style and have a dark humor
reminiscent of Charles Addams.

He was born in Evanston, Illinois in 1930. His cartoons and
prose-fiction work has appeared regularly in Playboy, Collier's
Weekly, The New Yorker and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science
Fiction. For the last he also wrote some movie and book reviews.
He has been a book-review columnist for The Twilight Zone
Magazine and Realms of Fantasy magazine.

His comic strip Nuts, which appeared in National Lampoon, was a
reaction against the saccharine view of childhood in strips like
Peanuts. His hero The Kid sees the world as a dark, dangerous
and unfair place, but just occasionally a fun one too.

Wilson also wrote and illustrated a short story for Harlan Ellison's
anthology Again, Dangerous Visions (1972). The "title" is a black
blob, and the story is about an ominous black blob that appears
on the page, growing at an alarming rate, until...

Gahan Wilson

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