Given name pronounced Gay-un; born February 18, 1930, in Evanston, IL; son of Allen Barnum (an inventor) and Marion (Gahan) Wilson; married Nancy Winters (a journalist and novelist), December 30, 1966; children: Randy Winters, Paul Winters (stepchildren). Education: Art Institute of Chicago, graduate, 1952.
Home—New York, NY. Office—HMH Publications c/o Readers Service, 919 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60611-1681.
Cartoonists Guild (vice president), Science Fiction Writers of America, Mystery Writers of America, Society of Illustrators, Wolfe Pack.
Horror Writers of America, Life Achievement Award, 1992; Bram Stoker Award nomination, Horror Writers of America, 1992, for story "Come One, Come All," and 1998, for The Cleft and Other Odd Tales; World Fantasy Award nomination, World Fantasy Convention, 1999, for The Cleft and Other Odd Tales.
Gahan Wilson's Graveyard Manner, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1965.
The Man in the Cannibal Pot, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1967.
I Paint What I See, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1971.
Playboy's Gahan Wilson, Playboy Press, 1973.
Weird World of Gahan Wilson, Tempo, 1975.
"…And Then We'll Get Him!," Richard Marek (New York, NY), 1978.
Nuts, Richard Marek, 1979.
Is Nothing Sacred?, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1982.
Gahan Wilson's America, Simon & Schuster, 1985.
Gahan Wilson's Still Weird, Forge (New York, NY), 1994.
Gahan Wilson's Even Weirder, Forge, 1996.
Gravedigger's Party, iBooks (New York, NY), 2002.
Eddy Deco's Last Caper: An Illustrated Mystery, Times Books (New York, NY), 1987.
Everybody's Favorite Duck, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1988.
The Cleft and Other Odd Tales, Tor Books (New York, NY), 1998.
Harry, the Fat Bear Spy, Scribner (New York, NY), 1973.
The Bang Bang Family, Scribner, 1974.
The Cracked Cosmos of Gahan Wilson, Grosset, 1975.
Harry and the Sea Serpent, Scribner, 1976.
Harry and the Snow-Melting Ray, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1978.
First World Fantasy Awards, Doubleday, 1977.
Gahan Wilson's Favorite Tales of Horror, Tempo, 1977.
(With George Booth and Ron Wolin) Animals, Animals, Animals: A Collection of Great Animal Cartoons, Harper (New York, NY), 1979.
(With Nancy A. Collins) Gahan Wilson's The Ultimate Haunted House, Harper, 1996.
Jerome Beatty Jr., Matthew Looney's Voyage to the Earth, William R. Scott (New York, NY), 1961.
Jerome Beatty Jr., Bob Fulton's Amazing Soda-Pop Stretcher, William R. Scott, 1963.
Buddy Hackett, The Truth about Golf and Other Lies, Doubleday, 1968.
Jerome Beatty Jr., Matthew Looney in the Outback, William R. Scott, 1969.
George Mendoza, The Good Luck Spider and Other Bad Luck Stories, Doubleday, 1970.
Jerome Beatty Jr., Matthew Looney and the Space Pirates, Young Scott Books, 1972.
Jerome Beatty Jr., Matthew Looney's Invasion of the Earth, Avon, 1972.
Felice Holman, The Future of Hooper Toote, Scribner, 1972.
Lilian Moore and Lawrence Webster, compilers, Catch Your Breath: A Book of Shivery Poems, Garrard (Champaign, IL), 1973.
Phyllis La Farge, Granny's Fish Story, Parents' Magazine Press (New York, NY), 1975.
Russell Baker, The Upside-Down Man, McGraw (New York, NY), 1977.
Quentin Crisp, Chog: A Gothic Fable, Methuen (New York, NY), 1979.
Thomas Godfrey, editor, Murder for Christmas, Mysterious Press, 1982.
Glenn Collins, How to Be a Guilty Parent, Times Books (New York, NY), 1983.
G. Mendoza, Hairticklers, Ten Speed Press (Berkeley, CA), 1989.
Nancy and Jean Francis Webb, editors, Plots and Pans: Recipes and Antidotes from the Mystery Writers of America, Wynwood Press (New York, NY), 1989.
Edgar Allan Poe, The Raven and Other Poems, Berkley Publishing (New York, NY), 1990.
Roger Zelazny, A Night in the Lonesome October, Morrow (New York, NY), 1993.
Alice Low, editor, Spooky Stories for a Dark and Stormy Night, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1994.
Martin H. Greenberg, Jill M. Morgan, and Robert Weinberg, editors, Great Writers and Kids Write Spooky Stories, Random House (New York, NY), 1995.
Martin H. Greenberg, Jill M. Morgan, and Robert Weinberg, editors, Great Writers and Kids Write Mystery Stories, Random House, 1996.
Animator for film Gahan Wilson's Diner, 20th Century-Fox, 1992. Contributor to Playboy's Horror Stories and The Big Book of Freaks. Contributor of cartoons and short stories to National Lampoon, New York Times, Playboy, Punch, New Yorker, Esquire, Look, and other periodicals. Contributor to anthology 13 Horrors of Halloween, Avon, 1983, and author of introductions to numerous books. Author of column "The Dark Corner," Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction; film reviewer, Twilight Zone, beginning 1981.
One of the most distinctive and original comic artists of our time, Gahan Wilson has established a secure reputation as a master of the macabre. "I've always had an innocent affection for the ghastly and the macabre," Wilson explained to Robert Dahlin of Publishers Weekly. This affection is obvious in his darkly humorous cartoons featuring monsters, aliens, vampires, and other grotesque characters. "Vile. Morbid. Depraved. Base. Monstrous. Diabolical. Grotesque. Macabre. All these adjectives and others like them have been quite properly applied to the cartoons [of] Gahan Wilson," a New York Times Book Review critic reported. "Wilson is the greatest cartoonist of the macabre in the world," Stanley Wiater proclaimed in an article posted at Wilson's Web site. Ray Olson in Booklist claimed: "Macabre cartoonist Wilson is the peer of Charles Addams, Edward Gorey, and Gary Larson, but he bests them all at simultaneously eliciting shivers and giggles." Wilson is also one of the founders of the annual World Fantasy Convention and designed the Convention's World Fantasy Award, a bust of supernatural horror writer H. P. Lovecraft.
Wilson has explained his passion for the strange and bizarre by saying that he was "born dead." Declared stillborn by the doctor who delivered him, the infant Wilson was plunged into a basin of ice water to revive him. "There must have been brain damage," Wilson once speculated. As a child, Wilson was a devoted reader of comic books, especially those artists with a wilder style, like Basil Wolverton. A predilection for the odd may have been hereditary: he had an uncle who was a professional lion tamer and includes legendary showman P. T. Barnum and populist politician William Jennings Bryan among his great-uncles.
During World War II, Wilson published his first cartoon in the journal of the Acme Steel Company, where his father worked as vice-president. The cartoon showed the German dictator Adolf Hitler and the Japanese dictator Tojo being horribly crushed by shovelfuls of the company's trademark steel. He went on to study at the Art Institute of Chicago where he was, Wilson remembered, "the only admitted cartoonist in the whole place." After graduating in 1952, he sold a few cartoons to magazines by mail but soon determined that he had no chance in the field without personal contact. He had to make the rounds on Wednesdays when New York magazine editors regularly screen new cartoon artists, and so moved to New York.
Starving Artist in New York
In New York, Wilson began living the life of a starving bohemian artist in Greenwich Village. Although he sold enough work to support himself, he also met resistance to his highly original approach and subjects. He never made an effort to conform, and while editors were impressed with the rebellious young artist who held to his principles, they were reluctant to run his work for fear that readers would not understand it. It was only when the regular cartoon editor left the prominent national magazine Collier's and an art editor, Bill Chessman, took over temporarily that Wilson was finally discovered.
By the time Collier's folded in 1959, Wilson was selling to most of the major markets. By a fluke (he was looking for Harvey Kurtzman, editor of the magazine Trump), Wilson stumbled into the office of Playboy magazine. Publisher Hugh Hefner took him up at once, and Wilson's cartoons have appeared in the magazine ever since. Wilson's cartoons now routinely grace the pages of such leading magazines as the New Yorker, Boy's Life, Punch, Esquire, Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Gourmet. He has also published collections of his cartoons and illustrated numerous books written by himself and others. Recently, he has also designed the computer game Gahan Wilson's the Ultimate Haunted House.
Wilson's cartoons, the rock on which his reputation rests most firmly, range from such conventional devices as the old-fashioned visual pun—a man introducing his ankle-high wife as his "little woman," or a member of a cult that worships an idol labeled "Nothing" asking another member, "Is nothing sacred?"—to some of the most outlandish grotesques ever committed to paper. In some he issues strong political or social statements, as when the last surviving soldier in a total war exclaims amid the rubble, "I think I won!" But in almost all of his work the element of the bizarre predominates.
When speaking of influences on his work, Wilson admitted that the old New Yorker cartoonist Charles Addams—creator of the Addams Family—is a favorite, as is Chester Gould of Dick Tracy fame (especially for his grotesque villain Pruneface), the medieval painter Heironymous Bosch, and Fontaine Fox's old comic strip Toonerville Trolley. He also credits classic film comedian W. C. Fields, whose loose, sloppy appearance Wilson tries to capture in his drawing style. That style—so easy to imitate, so deceptive in its seeming simplicity and tight inner control—is always the same regardless of which of the many magazines publishes his work. Only the content of the cartoons changes according to the readership of each magazine.
One of Wilson's most popular works has been the comic strip Nuts in the National Lampoon magazine. This strip features "the kid," not otherwise identified, and deals with his real-life problems, tribulations, and fears. Drawn in a style and perspective perfect for capturing a kid's eye-view of the world, the strip presents an unromanticized picture of childhood, recording the ignorance and credulity of that time. Wilson captures, too, the confusion of childhood, of learning and following rules set by adults that you really did not understand. Reviewing Nuts for the National Review, Joe Mysak explained that it is "about all the hopes and fears and nightmares of childhood, and why you're glad not to be a kid any more."
Critics have routinely praised Wilson's book illustrations. In a review for Science Fiction Review, Andrew M. Andrews found Wilson's book Is Nothing Sacred? to be "a fiesta of the grotesque and hilarious." A writer for the New York Times Book Review found that Wilson has a "diabolically fine, grotesque touch." In Gahan Wilson's America, Ralph Novak commented in People Weekly, "the unifying theme is that there's a monster of some sort lurking around nearly every corner." Occasionally Wilson tempers his approach, as with his illustrations for the children's anthology Spooky Stories for a Dark and Stormy Night; in this case "the inimitable Wilson's art … is playful rather than hair-raising," a Publishers Weekly critic related.
Wilson has sometimes ventured beyond illustrating to write stories displaying his trademark twisted humor and generally including his illustrations. Eddy Deco's Last Caper: An Illustrated Mystery, a parody of classic detective fiction that involves an invasion of space aliens, derives much of its appeal from Wilson's cartoons, in the opinion of New York Times Book Review contributor Bob Coleman. "Mr. Wilson is a wonderful cartoonist and illustrator, but his prose hardly dazzles.…Yet Mr. Wilson is playing a surprisingly interesting artistic game," Coleman observes. "'Eddy Deco's Last Caper' is not even an ordinary illustrated novel (in which illustrations complement the text) but one whose many pictures, forming an integral part of the narration, provide information unavailable verbally." The Cleft and Other Odd Tales consists of short fiction by Wilson, much of which first appeared in periodicals, and is "a collection of meticulously eccentric stories," according to Andrea Higbie in the New York Times Book Review. A Publishers Weekly commentator, noting that "an aptly odd original illustration" appears with each piece in this book, remarks that the "weird wit" of Wilson's stories "matches that of his drawings."
If you enjoy the works of Gahan Wilson, you might want to check out the following books:
Edward Gorey, The Gashlycrumb Tinies, 1962.
Max Cannon, Red Meat, 1997.
Charles Addams, The Charles Addams Mother Goose, 1967.
Biographical and Critical Sources
Jacobs, Mark, Jumping Up and Down on the Roof, Throwing Bags of Water on People, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1980.
Booklist, October 1, 1994, Carolyn Phelan, review of Spooky Stories for a Dark and Stormy Night, p. 321; January 1, 1995, Ray Olson, review of Gahan Wilson's Still Weird, p. 793; October 15, 1998, Ray Olson, review of The Cleft and Other Odd Tales, p. 407.
Christian Science Monitor, November 3, 1976.
Library Journal, November 1, 1988, Rex E. Klett, review of Everybody's Favorite Duck, p. 112; August, 1993, Jackie Cassada, review of A Night in the Lonesome October, p. 160.
Locus, March, 1999.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, October 30, 1983.
National Review, December 17, 1971; June 13, 1980.
New York Times Book Review, April 23, 1978; October 14, 1979; February 14, 1982, p. 35; December 20, 1987, p. 9; December 13, 1998.
People Weekly, March 3, 1986, Ralph Novak, review of Gahan Wilson's America, p. 10.
Publishers Weekly, April 9, 1982; November 13, 1987, Sybil Steinberg, review of Eddy Deco's Last Caper, p. 61; July 26, 1993, review of A Night in the Lonesome October; September 19, 1994, review of Spooky Stories for a Dark and Stormy Night, p. 26; October 19, 1998, review of The Cleft and Other Odd Tales, p. 59.
School Library Journal, November, 1994, Cheri Estes, review of Spooky Stories for a Dark and Stormy Night, p. 105.
Science Fiction Review, fall, 1982.
Wilson Library Bulletin, September, 1993, Gene La-Faille, review of A Night in the Lonesome October, p. 102.
Claude Lalumiere's Web Site,http://lostpages.net/wilsoncleft.html/ (June 27, 2003), Claude Lalumiere, review of The Cleft and Other Odd Tales.
Gahan Wilson's Web Site,http://www.gahanwilson.com/ (June 27, 2003), Stanley Wiater, "Interview with Gahan Wilson."
Quandary Reviews,http://www.quandaryland.com/ (May, 1995), Sandy Ferguson, review of Gahan Wilson's The Ultimate Haunted House.*