"In a puritan society such as ours, if you do humor or horror in any artistic thing, it is automatically considered to be less than if it's 'serious.'… If the artist gets scary or he gets silly, the critical tendency is to say, 'That's a minor work.' So it was a bitch for Edgar Allan Poe or Mark Twain to get serious recognition. They finally managed to do it, because they did some of the best stuff around, but it was an uphill struggle". -- Gahan Wilson
Gahan Wilson is mostly known as a cartoonist, although he’s written a number of short stories and a few books. Most of his work could be considered science fiction/fantasy, including his cartoons. It is all dark and morbid, involving crazy people, monsters, aliens, and other like characters. While many people haven’t heard of him, he has recently been regaining popularity, and some of his collections of cartoons are being republished. There’s a good chance that you’ve seen his work around, and not recognized it. For example, if you read the Matthew Looney books as a kid, you know his work – he illustrated all of them.
Gahan was born in Evanston, Illinois on February 18, 1930. As a kid he liked creepy stuff. He was a big comic book fan, and by high school he had discovered the science fiction pulps. In the early 1950s he started trying to sell his cartoons, but although the editors he submitted his work to liked the cartoons, they were afraid that the public wouldn’t get them. His first published cartoon appeared in Weird Tales in 1954.
His big break came when the editor of Colliers (one of those who thought that the public wouldn’t appreciate his work) left to work for Look. His temporary replacement was the Colliers’ art director, who liked Wilson’s work. Once Colliers had started to publish his cartoons, others soon followed – first and foremost, Look.
Wilson has been published multiple times in Playboy and The New Yorker, among others. He may be best known among science fiction fans, for his long association with SF/F magazines, in particular, Fantasy & Science Fiction, in which he also wrote book reviews. He also appears in many SF anthologies, and has illustrated a couple of SF/F novels for other authors. He also designed the World Fantasy Award, a bust of H.P. Lovecraft, in 1975.
Wilson is often compared to Charles Addams. While the artistic style is very different, the subject matter is often the same. I would say that Wilson tends to be more morbid and wacky. I would also compare him to Edward Gorey, although he is much less serious. His artistic style might be compared to Daniel Pinkwater, or to a lesser extent, James Thurber.
Aside from his individual cartoons, he also did a comic strip, Nuts, which appeared in the National Lampoon.
Cartoons and Comic Collections
Gahan Wilson's Graveside Manner (1965)
The Man in the Cannibal Pot (1967)
I Paint What I See (1971)
Playboy's Gahan Wilson -- I (1973)
Gahan Wilson's Cracked Cosmos (1975)
The Weird World of Gahan Wilson (1975)
And Then We'll Get Him! (1978)
Nuts (strip collection) (1979)
Playboy's Gahan Wilson -- II (1980)
Is Nothing Sacred? (1982)
Gahan Wilson's America (1985)
Still Weird (1994)
Even Weirder (1996)
Gravediggers' Party (2002)
The Best of Gahan Wilson (2004)
Eddy Deco's Last Caper An Illustrated Mystery (1987)
Everybody's Favorite Duck (1988)
The Cleft and Other Odd Tales (1999)
Harry, the Fat Bear Spy (1973)
Harry and the Sea Serpent (1976)
Harry and the Snow Melting Ray (1978)
The Bang Bang Family (1974)
Spooky Stories for a Dark and Stormy Night (1994)
The Big Book of Weirdos (Factoid Books) (With Carl A. Posey)
The Big Book of Freaks (Factoid Books)
Gahan Wilson's Favorite Tales of Horror (1976)
The First World Fantasy Awards (1977)
Gahan Wilson's The Ultimate Haunted House