Gahan Wilson, Vividly Macabre Cartoonist, Dies at 89

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Gahan Wilson, whose outlandish, often ghoulish cartoons added a bizarrely humorous touch to Playboy, The New Yorker, National Lampoon and other publications in the era when magazines propelled the cultural conversation, died on Thursday in Scottsdale, Ariz. He was 89.

His stepson Paul Winters said the cause was complications of dementia, which Mr. Wilson had been dealing with for years.

Mr. Wilson was known for visual surprises and black humor. A steward tells a couple on a cruise ship, “I’ve passed your complaints along to the captain” while, in the background, the captain — a violent-looking pirate — approaches. A man in a doctor’s office is reading an eye chart that says, in letters of diminishing size, “I am an insane eye doctor and I am going to kill you now,” while behind him a crazed doctor prepares to attack him with a knife.

“Some cartoonists can be good by having jokes, gags, and they’re funny gags,” David Remnick, the editor of The New Yorker, said in “Gahan Wilson: Born Dead, Still Weird,” a 2013 documentary directed by Steven-Charles Jaffe. “The really great ones develop a private language, a set of characters, a set of expectations, a world. Gahan Wilson developed a world.”

Another editor who published him frequently was Hugh Hefner of Playboy, who printed his first Gahan Wilson cartoon in the late 1950s.

“Gahan Wilson was an immediate hit with our readers and a perfect contrast to our usual, more sexual cartoon fare,” Mr. Hefner wrote in the introduction to “Gahan Wilson: 50 Years of Playboy Cartoons” (2011).

“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,” Mr. Hefner continued. “And no cartoonist was more popular, or more enduring, than Gahan Wilson.”

A complete obituary will appear shortly.


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