Friday, September 12, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #255: Amphigorey Too by Edward Gorey

I either have vastly too much power right now, or none at all. If you've never heard of Edward Gorey, I doubt I could explain him coherently to you at all -- you should probably run off to Wikipedia first, and then see if you can google up some of his stories, which are certainly illegally online someplace. But if you already know about Gorey, the fact that one random blogger has re-read his second major omnibus will mean precisely nothing.

Be that as it may, Amphigorey Too is today's book. It was originally published in 1975, collecting twenty stories that originally appeared elsewhere, primarily as small books from publishers large (Doubleday; Little, Brown) and tiny (Epstein & Carroll, Ivan Obolensky, Gorey's own Fantod Press), between 1953 and 1965. A few pieces here were original to this book, and one or two featured Gorey's art over someone else's text (organized and adapted and in one case translated by Gorey), but most of it is pure Gorey.

Gorey is generally called something like "author, illustrator, set designer, playwright, and artist," but I prefer to think of him primarily as a cartoonist. His distinctive work appeared in around a hundred discrete small books, each telling a single (generally unsettling or morose or wryly moralistic) story in a combination of words and pictures -- they may not be laid out in panels, precisely (unless you consider each page to be a panel), but they tell their stories in the combination of words and pictures, and especially the gaps between what is shown and what is said. And that is definitely comics: Gorey is only considered to be doing something different because he didn't run in cartooning circles -- he came from the world of book illustration and cover art.

Too came out only three years after the first big Gorey collection Amphigorey, which was a major success. And astute readers will have already noticed that it concentrated primarily on the earlier phase of Gorey's career as it existed at the time. This is not second-rate work, but it is the stuff that Gorey and his editors looked at and specifically didn't put into that first book. Readers new to Gorey should start with Amphigorey; it's the best stuff from his prime period.

But Amphigorey Too has a lot of strengths as well: it's full of mysterious doings and unfortunate ends, melancholy and despair and fatalism, ballet and children (horrible and well-meaning, both of them doomed), Edwardiana and unspecified locales, remote country houses and unpleasant city streets, birds and families, nonsense in verse and prose, abecedaries and limericks. It's got a couple of hundred pages of stories no one else could have told, with witty captions and expressive precise ink-lines.

All I'm saying is: this is very good stuff. But Gorey gets even better than this.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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