“Editors would take my drawings, laugh like hell, then hand them back and say, ‘Sorry, our readers wouldn’t understand’”

Some of the best stories about people can be found in their obits—here the Washington Post and New York Times are writing about cartoonist Gahan Wilson:

From the Washington Post obit, by Matt Schudel:

If there was a prototypical Gahan Wilson cartoon, it may have been one that appeared in Playboy in 1964, showing a bearded skeleton in a Santa Claus suit lying crumpled in a fireplace.

“Well,” a worker tells a wide-eyed matron, “we found out what’s been clogging your chimney since last December, Miss Emmy.”

More than 20 years later, Mr. Wilson told The Post: “That got more angry mail than anything I ever did. You can mess around with religion, but when you kill off Santa Claus, there’s an uproar. You never know.”

From the New York Times obit, by Neil Genzlinger:

Mr. Wilson was an only child and, he said, his parents drank too much, resulting in a bittersweet childhood. He turned to cartooning while very young, cultivating his imagination.

One cartoon done years later speaks to his upbringing. A child is emerging from an alley, surrounded by bizarre creatures. Two adults on the sidewalk can see only the child. “Here comes that Wilson boy — all alone as usual,” one says.

“And I wasn’t all alone,” Mr. Wilson says in the documentary, “which was the joys of imagination.”. . .

Although his family was well off, Mr. Wilson did not benefit from financial support; he settled into a spartan 1950s bohemian life in New York, trying to break in but mostly accumulating rejections.

“Editors would take my drawings, laugh like hell, then hand them back and say, ‘Sorry, our readers wouldn’t understand,’” he told The Boston Globe in 1973.

“Dealing with poverty wasn’t the biggest barrier of my career,” Mr. Wilson told The Globe in another interview, in 1982. “The hump was dealing with the emotional part of rejection. You have to say, ‘I will not accept it,’ and go on.”. . .

Mr. Wilson’s cartoons occasionally included social or political commentary, and one issue that most concerned him was the environment.

In 2010, when he lived in Sag Harbor, N.Y., he told Hamptons.com, “I have this touching fantasy that maybe one day some senator will look at one of my cartoons and actually say to another senator, ‘You know, he has a point here.’”

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