Gahan Wilson, whose sometimes macabre cartoons were once a staple of The New Yorker, Playboy and National Lampoon, died Thursday from complications of dementia. He passed in Scottsdale Arizona at age 89, according to his son.
Wilson’s staple was black humor. In a 2013 film documentary on his life, Gahan Wilson: Born Dead, Still Weird, The New Yorker editor David Remnick said of him, “Some cartoonists can be good by having jokes, gags, and they’re funny gags,. The really great ones develop a private language, a set of characters, a set of expectations, a world. Gahan Wilson developed a world.”
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Hugh Hefner also recalled Wilson’s gift, saying in an introduction to a Wilson collection, “no cartoonist was more popular, or more enduring, than Gahan Wilson.”
Wilson was born on Feb. 18, 1930 in Evanston, Illinois. He began drawing at an early age as a mean to survive a sometimes troubled homelife. He joined the Air Force and later graduated from the Art Institute of Chicago, his mother’s alma mater.
He moved to New York in the 1950s and struggled at first, as most editors didn’t “get” his sense of bizarre humor. His big break came when William Chessman was named editor at Collier’s, and began buying his work. He broke into Playboy in 1957 and slowly began his rise. Wilson joined National Lampoon in its 1970s heyday, drawing a regular strip. Nuts, described as an anti-Peanuts by some.
Wilson stopped drawing as his dementia progressed, and a GoFundMe page was set up for his care this spring following the death of his wife.
Survivors include his son, Paul Winters; a stepson, Randy Winters; daughter-in-law Patrice Winters; and eight step-grandchildren, as well as several great-grandchildren. No memorial plans have been announced.
A few Wilson gems:
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