Monday, November 25, 2019

Gahan WIlson 1930 - 2019

A Gahan Wilson cartoon from Look Magazine  September 10, 1963.

Gahan Wilson, known for his macabre magazine cartoons in Playboy, National Lampoon and The New Yorker, died Thursday in Scottsdale, AZ at the age of 89. The cause was dementia.

His stepson, Paul Winters, posted:

"The world has lost a legend. One of the very best cartoonists to ever pick up a pen and paper has passed on. He went peacefully - surrounded by those who loved him."

He was born in Evanston, IL. He was "born dead." This is a true story he would tell, just as the 2013 documentary on his life is titled "Gahan Wilson: Born Dead, Still Weird." 

From the NY Times obituary:
"The 'born dead' part of the documentary’s title refers to the story he recounts of his birth: His mother had been given an anesthetic that knocked her out but also caused him to be born seemingly dead. The hospital staff was prepared to “put me in some sort of box,” he says in the film, but his family doctor intervened.

"'He used hot and cold water and slap, slap, slap,' Mr. Wilson told The Comics Journal in 2011. 'He got me coughing and puking and breathing and that’s that: I was alive.'"

I met Gahan Wilson on a Tuesday at The New Yorker offices, back when it was in Times Square. It was maybe 15 years ago on what's called "Look Day" or "Cartoon Look Day" to be more descriptive. He was a quiet fellow; soft spoken and polite. I got to know him over time, while we waited in what was then called the "Cartoonists' Lounge." It was just a large closet with a couch. Many times, after filing in and out of the editor's office to show our cartoon batches for that week, Gahan, Sam Gross, Warren Miller, David Sipress, and other cartoonists would walk a few blocks to have lunch and talk shop.

Gahan told me, one time, about the early days, when he was just starting out. This was over one of these lunches and I, by chance, was sitting next to him. During the first years that Gahan Wilson slogged up to the Midtown NYC markets for "Cartoon Look Day," he was told that his cartoons, while funny, were probably not fit for the midcentury sensibilities that the cartoon editors were looking for. What was frustrating for him was that the editors LIKED what he was doing. How could they like it and not buy it? Maddening!

One day, after a long tome of note selling to the major mags, he went up to the Collier's magazine, as usual. The regular cartoon editor, Gurney Williams, was not there. The art director was temporarily performing the cartoon editor chores. (Gurney Williams had just accepted the cartoon editor position with Look Magazine.) The art editor liked Gahan's single panel cartoons and bought some. That was, as they say in the business, his big break. Slogging persistently has its rewards.

Soon, he would become a mainstay cartoonist at Playboy with his macabre cartoons, usually in full color and a whole page. He was a favorite of Hugh Hefner's. ("By the early 1960s, I could say with real satisfaction that no other magazine in the world — The New Yorker included — had a cartoon stable the equal of Playboy’s. And no cartoonist was more popular, or more enduring, than Gahan Wilson." - Hefner, as quoted in "Gahan Wilson: Born Dead, Still Weird.")

In the 1970s, he became a regular at the National Lampoon with his comic strip "Nuts."

There are a lot of tributes and remembrances on the web. A few are:

CNN: Cartoonist Gahan Wilson, 'the Wizard of Weird,' dies at 89
The New Yorker: The Beautifully Macabre Cartoons of Gahan Wilson

Washington Post: Gahan Wilson, cartooning’s master of the creepy and the macabre, dies at 89

Courtesy of my friend Dick Buchanan, here are some of Gahan Wilson's little seen magazine gag cartoons from the first decade he was drawing:

1. At last a major market cartoonist, Gahan Wilson cartoons began appeared regularly in Collier’s until they ceased publication. COLLIER’S. October 15, 1954

2. COLLIER’S. January 7, 1955

3. COLLIER’S. January 21, 1955

4. The masses may have been bewildered but Cartoon Editors were beginning to get the message. TRUE MAGAZINE. May 1955

5. TRUE MAGAZINE. August 1955


7. COLLIER’S. September 16, 1955

8. COLLIER’S. January 20, 1956

9. COLLIER’S. March 16, 1956

10. COLLIER’S. March 23, 1956.

11. COLLIER’S. July 6, 1956

12. When Collier’s folded, Cartoon editor Gurney Williams welcomed Wilson to the pages of Look. LOOK MAGAZINE. July 22, 1958

13. Many of Wilson’s best gag cartoons appeared in Look Magazine in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. This one was a classic. LOOK MAGAZINE. December 3, 1963

14. Dell Editor and cartoonist John Norment was a friendly editor who happily promoted Wilson’s early work, publishing many cartoons, several spreads, and cover art for his two Dell publications. FOR LAUGHING OUT LOUD. October-December, 1963

15. 1000 JOKES MAGAZINE. June-August, 1964




From the Dick Buchanan Files: Some Gahan Wilson Gag Cartoons 1955 - 1964

THE TRUTH ABOUT GOLF AND OTHER LIES by Buddy Hackett with Drawings by Gahan Wilson

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