Monday, May 23, 2016

Born Dead, Still Weird

Somehow, I had missed the work of Gahan Wilson. I was familiar with the macabre drawings of Edward Gorey and Charles Addams, but for some reason, while I had seen some of Wilson's cartoons, I didn't know anything about the man behind them.

Maybe part of the reason I wasn't as familiar with Wilson is that although his cartoons are in The New Yorker, he is better known for his cartoons in Playboy

Fortunately, a documentary was released in 2014 called Gahan Wilson: Born Dead, Still Weird by Stephen-Charles Jaffe. It took me a few years to discover it, but I rectified that last night. (I rented it from Amazon) 

The film features Wilson in his studio talking about his life as a child, which greatly influenced his work, and his process of creating a cartoon. This is interspersed with some great commentary by people like Hugh Heffner, Stephen Colbert, Neil Gaiman, Guillermo del Toro, Stan Lee and others who talk about their love for Wilson and, of course, there are a truckload of wonderful cartoons. For many of these artists, their first exposure to dark humor came from Wilson's cartoons.

Wilson is delightful. His sense of humor and joy in life seem so opposed to his macabre cartoons, but for Wilson it's "gaiety in the presence of doom- I love that sort of notion." I can relate to that. 

Really, not much is sacred for Wilson. He pokes fun at everything from religion to family life. Wilson says his weirdness is connected with the fact that he was "born dead" due to a complication with his birth. Fortunately the family doctor was able to revive him before he was officially declared dead. I suppose if you've been told that as a child you'd have a special relationship with death too. 

Wilson had a comic strip called "Nuts" in National Lampoon that was his reaction to the overly-simplistic view of life in "Peanuts" by Charles Schwartz. You won't find anything sugar coated in Wilson's work. If you aren't familiar with Gahan Wilson, I suggested you head to the internet asap. Then watch "Born Dead, Still Weird." You won't be disappointed. 

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