Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Gahan Wilson (1930-2019)

Cartoonist, Illustrator, Author, Editor, Essayist, Movie Reviewer, Book Critic, Screenwriter
Born February 18, 1930, Evanston, Illinois
Died November 21, 2019, Scottsdale, Arizona

Gahan Wilson had the last illustration in the last issue of the original Weird Tales and he was probably the last living artist to have contributed to that incarnation of the magazine. If you were making a list of the top two cartoonists of the macabre, the late Mr. Wilson would be on it. His accomplishments in the worlds of fantasy, horror, and science fiction were legion in a career that began in 1954 and ended only with his death late last year. According to the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (ISFDb), his earliest genre credit was a cartoon for Fantastic in the issue of January/February 1954. His last were for books published in 2019. He was born dead or heavily anesthetized and brought back in time to escape being put into a box. His parents, Allen Barnum Wilson (1898-1980), a steel engineer, and Rose Marion (Gahan) Wilson (1895-1960), an artist and advertising copywriter, had a tumultuous marriage. The effects extended into the life of their only child. Each gave him a name, for its fullest form was Gahan Allen Wilson. His mother's family, the Gahans, were Irish. Their surname supposedly means "rocky field."

Gahan Wilson served in the U.S. Air Force and 
like his mother before him studied at the Art Institute of Chicago. When he told his father that he wanted to become a cartoonist, the elder Wilson said simply, "Good luck." It worked. Wilson was more than a cartoonist, though. He reviewed books for The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction from 1968 to 1976 and for Realms of Fantasy from 1994 to 2006. He also reviewed movies for The Twilight Zone Magazine from 1981 to 1989. He designed the World Fantasy Award trophy in a likeness of H.P. Lovecraft. The trophy was in use from 1975 until 2015 when it was deemed too offensive to feeble sensibilities. He won the World Fantasy Special Convention Award in 1981, Best Artist Award in 1996, and the Life Achievement Award in 2004. The first illustrations I ever saw by Gahan Wilson were probably for Jerome Beatty's Matthew Looney series of children's novels. Matthew Looney's Voyage to the Earth (1961) may have been the first science fiction book I ever read. That was in fourth grade. My friend and classmate Matt C. introduced me to it. I'd like to say thanks, Matt. Thanks, too, to Jerome Beatty, Jr., and Gahan Wilson.

Gahan Wilson married Nancy Dee Midyette Winters Hurwitz in December 1966 in Broward County, Florida. Born on November 24, 1931, in Brooklyn, New York, she attended the Academy of St. Joseph and Scarsdale High School in New York and Bradford Junior College in Massachusetts. She was a writer, too, and had an early short story, "The Sea Shells," in All Manner of Men: Representative Fiction from the American Catholic Press, in 1956. Assuming I have the right person--she wrote under the pen name Nancy Winters--her other works include: Feasting Afloat (1972), The Girl on the Coca-cola Tray (1977), There's No Place Like the Ritz (1988), and Man Flies: The Story of Alberto Santos-Dumont, Master of the Balloon, Conqueror of the Air (1998). I think there were others. I'd like to have a fuller list of her credits. Nancy Winters also wrote syndicated newspaper articles for Women's News Service and was travel editor for Boston magazine.

Gahan Wilson was devoted to his wife, even if they lived separately from each other for long periods of time. After fifty-two years of marriage, she died on March 2, 2019. He survived her by nine months and died just three days before her birthday, on November 21, 2019. He was eighty-nine years old.

Gahan Wilson's Illustrations for Weird Tales (Original run)
Illustration for "Prediction" by Curtis W. Casewit (May 1954)
Illustration for "This Night" by Dorothy Quick (Sept. 1954)

Further Reading
"Gahan Wilson and the Comedy of the Weird" by Richard Gehr in The Comics Journal, Apr. 27, 2011, here.
"Gahan Wilson, Vividly Macabre Cartoonist, Dies at 89" by Neil Genzlinger, the New York Times, Nov. 22, 2019, here.
"Gahan Wilson (1930-2019)" on the website of Locus, Nov. 23, 2019, here. There is supposed to be a fuller tribute to Wilson in the January 2020 issue of Locus.

Gahan Wilson's illustration for "This Night" by Dorothy Quick from Weird Tales, September 1954. It was the last original illustration to appear in the original run of "The Unique Magazine." The artist was twenty-three years old when it appeared.

Wilson designed the World Fantasy Award trophy in the image of H.P. Lovecraft. The design was in use from 1975 to 2015. Sorry, people, no trigger warnings here. Look upon this image and weep for all the racism it represents.

Gahan Wilson married Nancy Dee Midyette Winters Gurwitz in December 1966. Here is her yearbook photo from Scarsdale High School, New York, 1949. Even then she was an "aspiring author."

Nancy Wilson went by the pen name Nancy Winters. She was married before and through her Gahan Wilson had two stepsons. She died in early 2019. Her husband followed in the latter part of the year. Here they are in happier times, 1972. Is it any wonder that we loved the 1970s?

Gahan Wilson had two heroes, H.P. Lovecraft and Charles Addams. Here is his tribute to Lovecraft on the cover of The Twilight Zone Magazine, August 1985. Wilson's drawing--the part on the left--looks like a self-portrait. It would have come when role-playing games were popular, hence the dice (I guess).

Wilson had just one cover for Weird Tales, for the Spring issue of 1991, illustrating Robert Bloch. This cover joins Virgil Finlay's cover of September 1939 as another illustrating an author of fantasy and the macabre.

I am remembering some of the events of 2019, but even without my meager remembrance of him (in his birthday month by the way), we would never have forgotten Gahan Wilson. We send our condolences to his family for the loss in one year of two parents. I lament the loss of all of those fine years, too.

Text copyright 2020 Terence E. Hanley

1 comment:

  1. Yes, Addams and Wilson, the two best. A nice remembrance of a brilliant cartoonist. I first became aware of his macabre artwork when sneaking peeks through issues of my friend's Dad's Playboy magazines. The illo for "This Night" looks inspired by another WT artist, Lee Brown Coye. And the HPL trophy "controversy"? Pathetic.