Gahan Wilson's Out There

by Gahan Wilson


Reading Review by Michael Channing

Gahan Wilson’s Out There

This volume collects all the cartoons, short stories, book reviews, and covers that Gahan Wilson published in the Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy. I knew his work appeared there, but I didn't realize how constant a contributor he was to that bastion of the genre.

The cartoons are, of course, the main draw. Wickedly subversive observations of daily life, graphic reminders of inescapable death, and gleeful twists on the tropes of speculative fiction. They're what Wilson is known for. A few have not aged well and had me scratching my head in confusion, but all the rest were one laugh after another, intermingled with the more than occasional gasp as a punch hit directly to the heart. One particular chest-punch depicts a military parade of decaying corpses. A man, watching from a crowd of fit folk says to his wife, “Gee, I don’t know; this is kind of depressing.” This a perfect example of understatement paired with a horrific image. There are many interpretations one can give to this cartoon, and all of them reveal something about the reader. The book is full of pieces like this.

My favorite is an hourglass wherein a group of people at the top are fighting against the pull of gravity, which is slurping them through the narrow section to deposit their remains in the bottom half. That one felt personal.

While the cartoons are the main reason you'll want to pick this book up (and have a hard time putting down), there are also short stories and book reviews. The short stories are very short, some only a single page long, and usually end with a twist. My favorite is "Harry's Golden Years." If the others feel a bit trite or tongue-in-cheeky, this one is perfect. It’s a consideration of the damage caused by extreme entitlement and privilege. It seems fitting for our current conversation on billionaires.

Wilson’s book reviews are not as necessary for his fans, but they are interesting. He wrote a monthly column for the magazine reviewing and recommending works of dark literature. He mentions his love for H. P. Lovecraft quite often, as well as his respect for the editing and publishing work of August Derleth. Derleth’s death took place during Wilson’s tenure as reviewer, and he mourns the passing of a personal hero. He also mentions a few writers of horror fiction who were just starting out at the time but have since become legends of the genre. Ramsey Campbell’s idea to populate his stories with everyday people in a modern setting strikes Wilson as a rather new and interesting proposal, and of course that became the norm for horror fiction from then on. He seems to have stopped reviewing before the rise of Stephen King, so we can only wonder what he made of Carrie and The Shining. I have a feeling he loved them.

I just found out that Stephen King and Gahan Wilson both received their World Fantasy Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2004. Synchronicity.

old timey typewriter

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