Fifty-one, to be exact, but lets not quibble. Gahan Wilson is among the most popular, widely-read, and beloved cartoonists in the history of the medium, whose career spans the 2nd half of the 20th century, and all of the 21st. His work has been seen by millions — no, hundreds of millions — in the pages of Playboy, The New Yorker, Punch, The National Lampoon, and many other magazines; there is no telling, really, how many readers he has corrupted or comforted. He is revered for his playfully sinister take on childhood, adulthood, men, women, and monsters. His brand of humor makes you laugh until you cry. And its about time that a collection of his cartoons was published that did justice to his vast body of work.
When Gahan Wilson walked into Hugh Hefner's office in 1957, he sat down as Hefner was on the phone, gently rejecting a submission to his new gentlemen's magazine: "I think it's very well-written and I liked it very much," Hefner reportedly said, "but it's anti-sin. And I'm afraid were pro-sin." Wilson knew, at that moment, that he had found a kindred spirit and a potential home for his cartoons. And indeed he had; Wilson appeared in every issue of Playboy from the December 1957 issue to today. It has been one of the most fruitful, successful, and long-lived relationships between a contributor and a magazine, ever.
Gahan Wilson: 50 Years of Playboy Cartoons features not only every cartoon Wilson drew for Playboy, but all his prose fiction that has appeared in that magazine as well, from his first story in the June 1962 issue, "Horror Trio," to such classics as "Dracula Country" (September 1978). It also includes the text-and-art features he drew for Playboy, such as his look at Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum, his take on our country's pathology of violence, and his appreciation of transplant surgery.
Wilson's notoriously black sense of comedy is on display throughout the book, leaving no sacred cow unturned (an image curiously absent in the book), ridiculing everything from state sponsored executions to the sober precincts of the nouveau rich, from teenage dating to police line-ups, with scalding and hilarious satirical jabs. Although Wilson is known as an artist who relishes the creepy side of modern life, this three-volume set truly demonstrates the depth and breadth of his range — from illustrating private angst we never knew we had (when you eat a steak, just whom are you eating?) to the ironic and deadpan take on horrifying public issues (ecological disaster, nuclear destruction anyone?).
Gahan Wilson has been peeling back the troubling layers of modern life with his incongruously playful and unnerving cartoons, assailing our deepest fears and our most inane follies. This three-volume set is a testament to one of the funniest — and wickedly disturbing — cartoonists alive.
Video & Photo Slideshow Preview (view in new window):
"Hefner knew great cartooning when he saw it, and the satirical undercurrent coursing through Wilson's work amused him as much as Wilson's eldritch comic irony. And doubtless Hefner admired, along with the rest of Wilson's ardent following, the flamboyant, wiggly line with which Wilson limns the hideous figures that people his panels." — Booklist (Starred Review)
"Since 1957, Wilson’s work has provided a grim counterpoint to the skin and pleasure-seeking of Playboy. The incidental commentary here about human selfishness and shortsightedness squeezed between the B-movie monsters and little green men feels timeless, as does the remarkably high level of quality Wilson has maintained over the years." — The A.V. Club
"It's a testament, not only to Wilson's genius but also to Fantagraphics' skill in presenting this material in such a stellar fashion." — Robot 6