SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Gahan Wilson, whose humorous and often macabre cartoons were a mainstay in magazines including Playboy, the New Yorker and National Lampoon, died last week. He was 89.
Wilson’s stepson, Paul Winters, said he died Nov. 21 in Scottsdale, Arizona, from complications of dementia.
Wilson delighted readers with his haunting scenes and dark humor. One cartoon shows a man reading a doctor’s eye chart with progressively shrinking letters that spell out, “I am an insane eye doctor and I am going to kill you now.” Behind him, a mad scientist gleefully holds a blade, ready to strike.
In another, two fishermen sit in a boat, unaware the captain behind them is removing a human mask to reveal a fish-like face, a mischievous toothy smile and scaly chest. “How did you come to name your boat the Revenge, Captain?” reads the caption.
In a story posted on his website, Wilson recalled how he’d struggled to convince editors that their readers would understand and appreciate his cartoons. His big break came from a fill-in cartoon editor at Colliers who didn’t know the conventional wisdom about his work.
“Not being a trained cartoon editor, he did not realize my stuff was too much for the common man to comprehend, and he thought it was funny,” Wilson wrote. “I was flabbergasted and delighted when he started to buy it!”
He went on to reflect on artists who push boundaries and shock the status quo.
“Art should lead to change in the way we see things,” he wrote. “If some artist comes up with a vision which gives a new opening, it usually creates a lot of stress, because it’s frightening.
His regular multi-panel strip in National Lampoon in the 1970s was called “Nuts,” a take on Charles Schultz’s “Peanuts.”
Gahan Allen Wilson was born Feb. 18, 1930, in Evanston, Illinois. His father was an executive for a steel company, his mother a publicist for a department store. He served in the U.S. Air Force and went to the Art Institute of Chicago.
His wife of 52 years, writer Nancy Winters, died in March. He’s survived by two stepsons, a daughter in law, eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.