The legendary master of the grotesque cartoon has died.
American cartoonist Gahan Wilson, who died this week aged 89, was one of the true greats of the art form – a man who revelled in the weird and the creepy, playing with classic horror themes and giving them a decidedly and gleefully grotesque twist. It’s no wonder than he got along so well with fellow horror fan Hugh Hefner, who employed him on a monthly basis in Playboy for over fifty years.
Alongside his seminal work for Playboy (which included prose work, and is collected in an essential three-volume box set published by Fantagraphics, one of many Gahan collections published over the years), Gahan contributed cartoons to the likes of The New Yorker and National Lampoon, which ran his comic strip Nuts. He was more than a cartoonist though – he wrote reviews for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and The Twilight Zone magazine and also wrote short stories – Gahan really was a fan of the macabre. Later in life, he even designed a computer game, The Ultimate Haunted House.
But it’s the cartoons that will live forever. Gahan’s style, both modernist and moodily gothic at once, and his absurdist humour would prove an influence on Far Side creator Gary Larson among others. His work still feels modern and innovatove, and can still cause you to guffaw out loud – there’s a timeless brilliance to what he did. Of course, Gahan ultimately outlived both Hefner and the publishing world that brought his work to prominence – those magazines may not be dead, but they are certainly a shadow of what they once were. The idea of a new magazine like Playboy or even The New Yorker appearing now, with the space for Gahan to explore his weird and wonderful fantasies unhindered, seems unthinkable today.
In his last years, Gahan suffered with dementia, and earlier this year, he lost his wife of 53 years, Nancy Winters – something that was a devasting blow. His family were raising his medical care funds on Gofundme at that point, a successful campaign thsat at least ensured that his final days were comfortable, if not perhaps happy.
We shouldn’t, however, dwell on the sad times for Gahan, but rather celebrate his work – the brilliant creations of a weird and wonderful mind.
Gahan Wilson, February 18, 1930 – November 21, 2019