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Gorey, Edward

Entry updated 19 February 2024. Tagged: Artist.

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(1925-2000) US author and artist who produced many book jackets and internal illustrations, often for children's books. As an artist he was essentially self-taught despite a single semester of study at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1943; his acknowledged influences included Chinese, Japanese and Symbolist art. Though his many covers for Doubleday Anchor books in the 1950s were important in establishing the "quality paperback" as a prestige marketing category, he is best known for his more than 100 illustrated chapbooks. These frequently have period settings that range from the Victorian era to echoes of 1930s detective fiction, and are most typically rendered as gently macabre or Gothic line-drawings, often with extensive cross-hatching and background detail such as lovingly rendered antique wallpaper. Some picture sequences are captioned in verse, some in prose of careful precision and brevity; several adapt and subvert the old children's-book format of illustrated alphabets. Most of these works are assembled in the four Amphigorey omnibus volumes running from Amphigorey (graph omni 1972) to the posthumous Amphigorey Again (graph omni 2006).

None of Gorey's fiction is precisely sf, although he introduced fantastic creatures into his retro households in such works as The Doubtful Guest (graph 1957), whose small, furry intruder is more melancholy than menacing; The Wuggly Ump (graph 1963), whose titular Monster successively devours the child protagonists; and The Sinking Spell (graph 1964), in which the creature slowly and mysteriously sinking through the household from roof to cellar and beyond is never actually shown. A hapless, doomed child – these abound in Gorey's world – is abducted by giant insects (see Great and Small) and sacrificed to their deity in The Insect God (graph 1963), an episode verging on Horror in SF. Time Travel is implied by the tortuous storyline of The Epiplectic Bicycle (graph 1969). Figbash, an eyeless, protean cousin of the Doubtful Guest – Loplop, created by Max Ernst (1891-1976), was an acknowledged influence here – appears in several later books including The Raging Tide; Or, The Black Doll's Imbroglio (graph 1987), a surreal Parody of Interactive-Narrative Gamebooks. Further works flirting with Oulipo techniques include The Dripping Faucet: Fourteen Hundred & Fifty-Eight Tiny, Tedious & Terrible Tales (graph 1989) and The Helpless Doorknob: A Shuffled Story (graph 1989), the latter comprising twenty cards whose captioned drawings offer varyingly melodramatic incidents to be taken in any order. Q.R.V. (graph 1989; vt The Universal Solvent 1990) consists of illustrated Advertising jingles for the mysterious titular product, whose many promised effects include Antigravity, Drug-like healing/addiction and priapism. The Haunted Tea-Cosy: A Dispirited and Distasteful Diversion for Christmas (graph 1997) distantly Parodies the ghostly mentors of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol (1843) and includes a further giant insect which introduces itself as the Bahhum Bug. Gorey's one principally prose work is The Black Doll: A Silent Screenplay (written pre-1973; Spring 1998 Scenario; 2009 chap), a melodramatic silent-film storyline in which the armless and featureless Black Doll – a recurring motif throughout his work – becomes a McGuffin which is repeatedly stolen and exchanged for duplicates, usually by sinister Asiatics who somehow move unseen by other characters (see Invisibility; Yellow Peril).

Gorey won a Tony Award for his set and costume designs for the 1977 Broadway production of Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897); he published miniature versions of these as Dracula: A Toy Theater (graph 1979). He has long been a cult figure whose work is eagerly collected. He received the World Fantasy Award as Best Artist in 1985 and 1989, and the International Horror Guild art award in 1999. [DRL]

Edward St John Gorey

born Chicago, Illinois: 22 February 1925

died Hyannis, Massachusetts: 15 April 2000




  • Amphigorey (New York: G P Putnam's Sons, 1972) [omni: graph: Amphigorey: illus/hb/Edward Gorey]
  • Amphigorey Too (New York: G P Putnam's Sons, 1975) [omni: graph: Amphigorey: illus/hb/Edward Gorey]
  • Amphigorey Also (New York: Congdon and Weed, 1983) [omni: graph: Amphigorey: illus/hb/Edward Gorey]
  • Amphigorey Again (Orlando, Florida: Harcourt, 2006) [omni: graph: Amphigorey: illus/hb/Edward Gorey]

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