Sunday, January 08, 2017

Gahan Wilson's Out There

Gahan Wilson is one of the great cartoonists of the grotesque: the obvious heir to Charles Addams and forefather of a younger generation of weird and alternative cartoonists. And he's been closely associated with genre fiction as well -- more towards the Lovecraftian horror and weird mystery end of the field than mainstream SF and fantasy, certainly, but still part of that world for decades.

So it amuses me that it took a comics publisher, Fantagraphics, to collect all of his work for The Magazine of Fantasy & SF from 1964 to 1981, when SFF has had a very active publishing community since well before even Wilson started working in the field. (And that outsider-ness, I think, led to some odd phrasing in the introduction by Fantagraphics publisher Gary Groth, implying that F&SF is no longer being published, among other things.)

But Fantagraphics does great books, and Gahan Wilson's Out There is no exception. It collects all of Wilson's cartoons for F&SF, plus seven short stories (most of them short-shorts) and the dozen "The Dark Corner" book review columns that Wilson wrote for that magazine. I would have liked to have publication dates for the stories and columns, particularly the latter, but that may be asking too much of a comics publisher.

The cartoons, though, are all reproduced well, at full-page size -- they were all full-pagers in F&SF as well -- and cover the usual creepy Wilson panoply: cultists, aliens, monsters, gods, ventriloquists, and other essentially frightening folks. I have the faint sense that this mostly isn't Wilson's best work -- that he sent his best ideas to Playboy, where they might be finished in color and pay better, and maybe even cascaded those ideas down through other markets before they hit F&SF. There's a lot of good gags here, certainly -- but very few of the sublime ones that peppered the gigantic collection of his Playboy work.

Still: it's a handsome book full of Gahan Wilson cartoons. Full of funny creepy stuff, and his inimitable line. It's a must for any fan of the cartoon grotesque, and for many serious fans of F&SF as well.

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