It’s hard to know exactly where to start with this one, but let’s begin with the obvious: Gahan Wilson: 50 Years of Playboy Cartoons is enormous. It’s three volumes weigh more than 10 lbs. all told, and they’re all collected in one attractive boxed set.
Actually, “attractive” doesn’t quite do it justice. Fantagraphics has truly pulled out all the stops on the production of this set, giving it such marvelous style and pizzazz. From the embossed back cover of the box (in which Dracula sprinkles salt on the nubile young neck of his soon-to-be victim) to the Plexiglas window on the front, which allows us to peer at the scrunched-up face of the artist, everything about this collection is top drawer (and perhaps the Dracula image is at the front and the Plexiglas is at the back…depends on how you look at it, I guess). Further, each book is die-cut, and so are many of the page within.
But it’s the content, of course, that is truly king. If the 20th century was indeed the American century, then Wilson is a cartoonist who had a hell of a time chronicling it, mocking it, signifying it, and holding it up to the light --- albeit through his own twisted lens, which is a bit like Charles Addams’. Wilson began cartooning for Playboy in 1957, and he hasn’t missed an issue since, all the way up to today. Everything up to December 2008 is collected here, and then the volume transcends into Wilson’s writing, then reprints interviews and other Wilson material. All of it is introduced by the legendary Neil Gaiman.
At $125, the set certainly isn’t cheap, and it’s probably best targeted at those who have a great interest in Wilson’s work already. The work is tremendous and witty and, as always with an excellent retrospective, it offers the reader an excellent chance to walk back in time through decades of experiences, memories, turbulences and triumphs, and just plain old human oddities. What’s truly amazing is how, for more than 50 years, Wilson rarely misses a witty beat.
Reviewed by John Hogan on October 3, 2011
Gahan Wilson: 50 Years of Playboy Cartoons