Charles Addams isn’t forgotten. Not with “The Addams Family,” the black-and-white TV trifle that lasted two seasons in the mid-1960s and forever in syndication. Plus the sharp 1991 movie and a new, animated one, out last week.
Addams was more than that, of course. Readers of the New Yorker magazine savored his gorgeous, full page cartoons delving into the macabre. My favorite showed a pleasant suburban couple, the father with his pipe, the mother informing a trick-or-treating spaceman at the door, “I’m sorry sonny. We’ve run out of candy.” A second look shows the darkened neighborhood overrun with identical spacemen, the sky filled with hovering motherships.
After Addams died in 1988, his mantle of morbid fun, though not his fame, was taken up by Gahan Wilson. No movies to make him a household name. But he checked in at every phase of my life. In the 1960s, he illustrated a series of kids books by Jerome Beatty Jr. about a moon boy name Matthew Looney.
In the 1970s, Wilson had a monthly strip in the National Lampoon. It was something of a horror story about growing up, called “Nuts” — that had to be a play on “Peanuts.” Its protagonist was a large-headed boy in a plaid cap, his face just peeking out, rolling in the agony of childhood that Charles Schulz could only hint at.
“Nuts” hit the sweet spot between the hope and disillusionment of being a kid. I was shocked at how many specific strips came back after 40 years, particularly the one where the boy builds a pathetic shelf of a fort: just a board in a tree. “Nice to have something work out OK for once,” the kid muses. You could feel the weight of all those things that didn’t work out, hovering just off the page.
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|Among my favorite Gahan Wilson cartoons is the one heaven I could imagine actually existing. |
The caption: "Somehow I thought the whole thing would be a lot classier."