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Gahan Wilson (1930–2019), grim cartoonist featured in Playboy and The New Yorker

Gahan Wilson (1930–2019), grim cartoonist featured in Playboy and The New Yorker

by Legacy Staff

Gahan Wilson, the grim cartoonist featured in Playboy, The New Yorker, and National Lampoon, died Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019, in Scottsdale, Ariz., from complications of dementia. He was 89.

Gahan Wilson was a cartoonist celebrated for his black humor and grotesque, ghoulish illustrations. He impressed critics and brought dark smiles to generations of fans who saw his work in popular magazines like Playboy, The New Yorker, and National Lampoon. He was first published in the 1950s and became increasingly popular with readers looking for an antidote to the usual cheeriness and whimsy found in comic panels.  

Wilson was inspired by the satirical cartoons published in the British magazine when he was a child, but it was difficult to get his own work published. He said his cartoons would make magazine editors laugh, but they were hesitant to publish his work, fearing that it wouldn’t be well received by readers. After many rejections, a change of editors at Collier’s magazine resulted in his big break. By the 2000s he was being honored with retrospective gallery showings and honored as one of the most influential cartoonists of the 20th century.  


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Died: Thursday, November 21, 2019 (Who else died on November 21?)  

Details of death: Died in Scottsdale, Ariz. from complications of dementia at the age of 89.

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An award of his own design: In 2005 he was honored at the World Fantasy Awards with a Lifetime Achievement. The trophy was a bust of acclaimed author H.P. Lovecraft that Wilson had been commissioned to design in 1975.  

Notable quote: “Collier’s started publishing me by mistake because the cartoon editor left and the new man didn’t know he wasn’t supposed to buy my stuff,” he told The Boston Globe in 1973.  

What people said about him: “Gahan Wilson was an immediate hit with our readers and a perfect contrast to our usual, more sexual cartoon fare. By the early 1960s I could say with real satisfaction that no other magazine in the world—The New Yorker included—had a cartoon stable the equal of Playboy’s. And no cartoonist was more popular, or more enduring, than Gahan Wilson.” —Hugh Hefter, Publisher of Playboy, writing in the introduction to “Gahan Wilson: 50 Years of Playboy Cartoons”  

Full obituary: The New York Times  

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