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Awesome Men Throughout History: Edward Gorey

It’s weird, but some people just aren’t into sex. They’re called asexuals, and their sexual identity is typified by a lack of sexual desire for anyone, male or female. It sounds crazy to a lot of dudes reading this right now, but come on, some of you are just a little jealous, I’m sure. Not wanting to bone all the time would make our lives a lot less complicated.

Of course, there’s always the question of what to do with all that time. Well, if you were Edward Gorey, today’s Awesome Man Throughout History, you’d spend it illustrating books in the creepiest way possible, and writing things like a pop-up book where one member of a family gets killed on every page. I’m not making that up. It’s called The Dwindling Party, and it’s delightfully morbid.

Gorey!

Gorey may have only had one year of formal art training, but his illustrations are fabulous. The people in them are tall and gaunt, and have a stiff-backed, Victorian air about them. Their minimal rendering, which made much use of shadows and obsessive cross-hatching, also gives them an ominous edge that illustrators who try twice as hard can never reach. His characters rarely spoke, and their stories involve murder, abuse, and bad luck in a detached, itemized sort of way – as if the narrator is softly chuckling at the characters as they go down and crossing out their names on a list of the inevitable.

And, given his sexual non-appetite, there’s a grim sexlessness to his work that, when weighed against other artists who think sex is a replacement for personality, is kind of refreshing.

As for where you’ve seen his work, he’s probably most famous for drawing the opening title sequence for Mystery! (if you don’t know what this show is, ask your mom; she probably watches it). He also provided cover and interior illustrations for a wide variety of books during his stint in Doubleday Anchor’s art department back in the 1950s, and would later provide illustrations for John Bellairs’ books, which is how I was introduced to his work.

But there was more to Gorey’s life than empty beds and literary strangeness. He was a shameless pop culture junkie whose capacity to remember random details from contemporary sitcoms, movies, and songs was uncanny. He designed costumes and scenery for the 1977 stage production of Dracula, and won a Tony for his efforts. He was also, like many uber-nerds, something of a hoarder, and his house in Massachusetts was crammed full of things he collected, including rocks, puppets, and handmade stuffed animals. He was an avid reader, as one might expect, but he was an equally avid art collector, and his tastes ranged from Bonnard and Balthus to Japanese woodcuts and original drawings by George Herriman, creator of Krazy Kat.

Oh, and there’s the cat thing. Gorey loved cats and his house and property were crawling with them. Not sure why that’s always a thing with guys like Gorey, but I’m only sticking to one cat so that, after I’m dead, people won’t nod somberly over my grave and say, “wait, how many cats? Mm, he was one of those. That explains a lot.”

Even though he’s been dead for a while, Gorey has a web presence.  His house has become something of a museum for his work, and Gorey Books is a complete listing of all the book covers he illustrated over the years. Before his death, he collaborated with dark cabaret band the Tiger Lillies, and modern chamber ensemble the Kronos Quartet, for an album of songs based on his short stories. Here’s a track from it, titled “The Weeping Chandelier.”

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About Dave Kiefaber Dave Kiefaber is a Baltimore-based writer who regularly contributes to Adfreak and the Gettysburg Times. His personal website is at www.beeohdee.blogspot.com.


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