Friday, November 29, 2019

Gahan Wilson, 1930-2019; John Simon, 1925-2019 (and Jonathan Miller and Clive James)

I first encountered the work of Gahan Wilson no later than some time in 1972; John Simon in 1975. I probably saw Wilson's cartoons in one magazine or another, I made it to 8yo in '72 so it certainly wasn't Collier's, the first living-wage-paying (for cartoons) market he would contribute to, nor Fantastic, later one of my favorite magazines, which was the first magazine he contributed to (and was very happy to have the $7.50 per cartoon they paid him for the several they bought at Ziff-Davis Publications and ran in the fantasy magazine, along with a single panel in its sf companion Amazing Stories instead in 1953). His cartoons were the primary focus of most of his audience, and not improperly; he was consistently cited throughout his his career, after coming to prominence in the 1960s, as the overlapping heir to Charles Addams in the world of the macabrely humorous panel cartoon, and there was a certain consanguinity with Edward Gorey in both men's work; Wilson also, in drawing his monsters and to some degree his human figures, could also seem to streamline the elaborate grotesqueries of Basil Wolverton. Though, from early on, Wilson contributed art (illustration as well as cartoons) and prose (fiction and critical writing) and sometimes hybrid, heavily illustrated fiction that was a bit too text-heavy to count as graphic fiction, to a wide array of markets which included nearly every important US newsstand fantasy-fiction magazine to flourish during his career ...starting in Fantastic, as noted, he contributed illustration to two of the very last issues of the original run of Weird Tales in 1954, would publish a monthly cartoon in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, from 1965 to 1981, along with occasional short stories and reviews mostly of horror fiction books, was a columnist on film (and cover artist) for The Twilight Zone Magazine in the 1980s, contributed installments of the mostly book-review column "The Den" and cover and other illustration for the 1980s-onward Weird Tales revival, and was a book review columnist (and cover artist) for Realms of Fantasy in the 1990s (and a cover and interior illustration for a fantasy issue of eclectic little magazine Conjunctions); all this in addition to his regular cartoon (and infrequent cover) contributions to The New YorkerPlayboyNational Lampoon (the trio usually cited in his obituaries), and a variety of other magazines including Punch and Paris Match, and a syndicated newspaper strip, Gahan Wilson's Sunday Comics, which ran from 1974-77, which I recall from The Boston Globe, I believe, in its last year and a half (I don't think the Hartford Times  nor Courant had it, sadly, in earlier years when my family and I were in Connecticut). But I know I was aware of Wilson no later than "The Science Fiction Horror Movie Pocket Computer", as reprinted in Best SF '71, the 1972 volume of Harry Harrison and Brian Aldiss's best-of-the-year annual, and I was lucky to have the Berkley US paperback edition, since the Sphere UK softcover edition, under a less date-infected title, reprinted the flow-chart bit of humor almost illegibly. That piece of work might've been the first thing I saw from National Lampoon, as well, though my first experience with that magazine, and Wilson's running strip there, Nuts (named as well as created in 
response to Charles Schulz's Peanuts and meant to delve a bit deeper into the confusions and distresses the world presents to young children), and it was one of books my father had kicking around the house...I first saw Playboys and New Yorkers at a similar age. Took me a while to catch up with an issue of Punch, though I had certainly read work from it over the years. In the next year or so, I would read Wilson's illustrated story in Harlan Ellison's anthology Again, Dangerous Visions, the title of the story being the image of a flat little blob or stain which becomes the villain of the story as the narrative unfolds, with Ellison's typically lengthy introduction to the story filling us in on Wilson and how Ellison met him while the cartoonist was sketching sf and fantasy fans at a convention, on a project for Collier's in the mid-late '50s (I assume that never made it to print in the magazine, as I've not seen mention of it elsewhere). 
Wilson edits and sculpts the Lovecraft statue that serves as the first trophy of the WFA

I have enjoyed his short fiction whenever I've encountered it since, but have yet to read his collection 
The Cleft and Other Odd Tales, nor his other prose collections (Gahan Wilson's Cracked Cosmos, a 1975 YA-targeted volume mostly overlapping with The Cleft..., and the new Borderlands Press item The Little Purple Book of Phantasies), which I need to rectify (I do have at least one of the two Fantagraphics collections which mix short stories and cartoons). Such illustrated, not quite graphic (though close), novels as Eddie Deco's Last Case and Everyone's Favorite Duck are very much worth seeking out, along with the vast majority of all his work.

And do see Gahan Wilson: Born Dead, Still Weird, if you haven't...widely online, currently no extra charge for Amazon Prime customers.

Roz Chast remembers Gahan Wilson

John Simon I was first made aware of by the amusing, mostly enjoying its own presumption, little book The Best, a collection of essays by Peter Passell and Leonard Ross, which cited Simon as the Best Film Critic; an impulse buy for my father, I assume, in the 1975 Pocket Books paperback. Simon has been deservedly criticized for the degree to which he has written and apparently occasionally said rude things about the appearance of some actors, and such, but is also too often dismissed as a snobbish boor, as opposed to someone who usually stated his opinions intelligently, elegantly and no more goofily nor crankishly than did most of his cohort of film or theater critics (Pauline Kael, Andrew Sarris, Roger Ebert, Frank Rich, I feel I can confidently rest my case without descending to Rex Reed nor Bosley Crowther), and less so and less often than

most. He also wrote fine literary and music criticism, and his unwillingness to give full marks for intent unfulfilled nor novelty as a virtue in itself was often not sufficiently appreciated, nor was his hailing good and better work when he found it, which was often. Including the good and better work by his peers, and his great respect for such critics who had gone before, such as James Agee. His work thus struck me as not altogether different from the primarily literary critics I've admired most, including Anthony Burgess, Dorothy Parker, Damon Knight, Algis Budrys, Joanna Russ, Barry Malzberg, Vivian Gornick, Richard Lupoff, Avram Davidson, John Leonard and others...and, like these others, I've reviewed a few of Simon's books here, if not as frequently nor as well as I'd like. 

Here is the Internet Archive's cache of Simon's New York magazine stage reviewshere is his blog, Uncensored John Simon.

Christopher Bonanos on John Simon

From the NY/NJ Regional News Network running segment discussed above:

Gahan Wilson previously in Sweet Freedom

John Simon so far likewise

I have not been as influenced, nor from such an early age, by either Jonathan Miller (despite very much enjoying Beyond the Fringe and The Body in Question, among some of his other work) nor Clive James (having read only a bit of his work), but I thought I might add this segment indicative of how they were willing to take the afflatus from any given circumstance, as public intellectuals...

Todd Mason 

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