Friday, April 11, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #100: The World of Charles Addams

Today's entry is almost certainly cheating, but I did want to make sure I had something big and impressive for Day 100. I can't count on my post to be that -- who knows how a day is going to go? -- since I do these, like clockwork, the night before. But I could pick a book guaranteed to be worth the time and attention, even if that meant the book itself and the author's work has been thoroughly picked over before I got to it.

So: The World Of Charles Addams is the big doorstop collection of the cartoons and New Yorker covers of the cartoonist of the same name, published in 1991, just a few years after his 1988 death. It was clearly chosen and organized by someone -- unless you credit Addams with the work from beyond the grave, which would not be out of character for his work -- but that person is entirely anonymous here. (My first guess would be Tee Addams, the cartoonist's widow, and my second would be Lee Lorenz, cartoon editor of The New Yorker at the time. Third, but most likely, is whoever acquired the book for Knopf.)

It contains the first illustrative drawing Addams did for The New Yorker, from back in early 1932, and then about three hundred of his cartoons from 1933 through 1990 (since the New Yorker, like everyone else, buys quicker than it publishes). Also included are twenty-four color plates of New Yorker covers and about half-a-dozen cartoons that originally appeared in Addams's collections. It's as definitive as any collection of any cartoonist can be, with all of Addams's most famous work included -- the skier, "Deathray? Fiddlesticks!", the family greeting carolers, and so on -- plus lots of others, which will be new to all but the most fanatical Addams fans. (And those are probably pretty thin on the ground now, twenty years later.)

Wilfred Sheed's introduction -- which is windy and tedious, by the way, in that eternal hagiographic style -- makes a great deal of the fact that Addams preferred not to have captions for his drawings; he wanted a scene that would stand alone. This sometimes makes his cartoons a bit opaque: there are several I had to stare at for a while before I figured them out, and one that I never did get. Since Addams is a cartoon legend and I'm a mere blogger, I'm just going to assume it's all my fault.

This is a big fat book by a great, sneaky, off-kilter cartoonist, and his work is vastly more subtle and urbane than even the relatively faithful '60s TV show inspired by his work. (We won't mention that later stuff.) If you've never read Addams, but have ever liked Gahan Wilson, Richard Sala, or Edward Gorey, this is the place to start -- and congratulations on having it still in front of you.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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