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Wilson, Gahan

Entry updated 24 September 2021. Tagged: Artist.

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(1930-2019) American artist and author, best known for his work outside the genre as a cartoonist, his career beginning in the mid-1940s; associated mainly for many decades with such Slick magazines as Playboy (from 1957) and The New Yorker (from 1980). The bizarre and often macabre sense of Humour he displayed in his innumerable cartoons, though influenced by such precursors as Charles Addams, has had a broad impact on the style and substance of American culture as a whole. He drew in distinctively sprawling lines which encouraged distortions and grotesques, a good visual match for his habitual black-comedy subjects: funerals, Death, Devils, oozing Monsters, Vampires and seedy versions of Heaven and Hell regularly appeared, as did sinister Children. His contributions to sf were also copious, if perhaps not as significant.

Wilson's artwork for the SF Magazines began with several 1954 cartoons published in Fantastic, the first being in the January/February 1954 issue; Amazing Stories, from the March 1954 issue; and Weird Tales, from the September 1954 issue. He went on to publish numerous cartoons in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction during the 1960s and 1970s. These did not always involve genre subjects, but one cartoon from F&SF republished in "... And Then We'll Get Him!" (graph 1978) can be said to represent his propensity for twisted takes on familiar tropes, as it depicts a Mad Scientist who has assembled a kind of Frankenstein Monster with the head, hands, and feet sewn on in the wrong places, leading his hunchbacked assistant to murmur, "I think he's gone soft!" Wilson also drew a few covers for the magazine, such as his drawing of Santa Claus propelling himself through the air with a hand-held rocket and a jet pack for the January 1969 Christmas issue (see Flying). His occasional book covers include an interesting effort for Robert M Price's anthology Tales of the Lovecraft Mythos (anth 1992), showing supplicant authors presenting their manuscripts to an enormous statue of Lovecraft, also being honoured by a bowl of burning incense and a sacrificed dog. Another clever cover, for the August 2003 issue of Realms of Fantasy, shows Harry Potter signing books in the company of other figures from fantasy.

As a writer, Wilson produced a number of short stories, the most prominent of these being the typographically-unrenderable "•", for Harlan Ellison's Again, Dangerous Visions (anth 1972), which visually and verbally describes an expanding black blob that increasingly threatens the narrator's life. Other stories, which appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Omni, Playboy, and several original anthologies, were collected as The Cleft and Other Odd Tales (coll 1987) and A Little Purple Book of Phantasies (coll 2019). Wilson also wrote three books for children and two comic detective novels, Eddy Deco's Last Caper: An Illustrated Mystery (1987) and Everybody's Favorite Duck (1989), all with illustrations; the last features Sherlock Holmes and Fu Manchu as characters. In addition, he published numerous book reviews and film reviews in Realms of Fantasy, Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone Magazine, and Weird Tales; he wrote the introductions to several books; and he edited three Anthologies of short fiction: Gahan Wilson's Favorite Tales of Horror (anth 1976), offering a broad range of older and more recent stories; First World Fantasy Awards (anth 1977), which also includes essays and poems; and Gahan Wilson's The Ultimate Haunted House (anth 1996), a collection of original stories based on his own artwork. His occasional work in films included writing the horror film Freeway Maniac (1989) and "Leavings" (1991), an episode of the series Monsters (1988-1991); he also wrote and served as production designer for the animated short Diner (1992).

Though Wilson never won a Chesley Award, he received the World Fantasy Award as best artist in 1996 (he had also designed the original trophy for this award, a Wilsonesque caricature bust of H P Lovecraft). His honours for lifetime achievement are the 1991 Bram Stoker Award, 2004 International Horror Guild "Living Legend" and 2004 World Fantasy Award. In the 2010s Wilson produced some apparently original covers for several books from Subterranean Press, and cartoons, in particular for The New Yorker; retrospective compilations of his best cartoons continued to make his singular artwork widely accessible to new generations of readers. He announced his retirement from cartoon work in January 2019, owing to the onset of dementia. [GW/DRL]

Gahan Wilson

born Evanston, Illinois: 18 February 1930

died Scottsdale, Arizona: 21 November 2019

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