Thursday, February 22, 2018

Gahan Wilson: some words and a bunch of cartoons

Recently, I listened to the most excellent folks at Sanctum Secorum talk about Roger Zelazny's fun homage to the Universal monster movies, Sherlock Holmes' London, and HP Lovecraft, A Night in the Lonesome October (1993). You can (and should) listen HERE. The three hosts - Bob Brinkman, Jen Brinkman, and Marc Bruner - were delighted by the book and have a lot of fun discussing it and how it could be used to inspire RPG adventures. 

The funny thing is, unless I missed it (which we all know is entirely probable), they didn't mention one of the coolest aspects of the book: each chapter is illustrated by Gahan Wilson. Wilson is one of the greatest contemporary cartoonists, with a special love for the creepy and bizarre. His cartoons were long mainstays of Playboy and the New Yorker (they might still be for all I know). I grew up reading them in the cartoon collections my dad owned. Later I bought my own books. 

Snuff, hero of A Night in the Lonesome October on the lookout

He also drew a comic for National Lampoon called Nuts. It told the adventures of a young boy called only, The Kid. It's less overtly creepy than most of his work, but it's just as fun, and even a little melancholy sometimes, as any honest examination of being a kid will be.

Wilson is also a writer of some very good weird short stories as well as two fun novels. Many of his stories can by found in the 1997 collection The Cleft and Other Odd Tales. The first novel, Eddy Deco's Last Caper (1987) mixes a noir detective, Lovecraftian monsters, and art deco architecture. In the second, Everybody's Favorite Duck (1988), stand ins for Holmes and Watson face off against stand in for Fantomas, Fu Manchu, and Moriarty during the late 80s. All three books are terrific, playing with all sorts of genre tropes and archetypes, playing with them completely straight as much as flipping them around, as well as featuring more of Wilson's cool comics.

The thing for which most fans today probably know him for is the recently, lamentably, retired Word Fantasy Award HPL trophy. Argue how you will over the appropriateness of HPL as an award, it's a much cooler looking one than the crappy moon and tree they came up with.

What he will be remembered for most, more than his stories, more than his sculpture, are his cartoons. Unlike the more reserved, Gothic-inspired work of Charles Addams, Wilson's are more grotesque, gorier, more in-your-face. He draws on mid-century sci-fi movies, HPL, classic monsters, serial killers, whatever he needs to give you a good, creepy chuckle. His style is also more exaggerated, with weirdly wrinkled skin, piggy eyes, and all sorts of other oddball characteristics that make his work instantly recognizable as well as what makes it so cool looking. Even his straightest looking characters are off in some way and look like they've stepped out of some stranger, weirder world just to the left side of our own. 

Now, some really good cartoons.

1 comment:

  1. For some reason, Keith's comments aren't posting these days. The other day he wrote:

    Wilson is great. I loved A Night in the Lonesome October. The illustrations really added to the book. And I agree with you about the World Fantasy award. Wilson's is far superior to the thing they have today.