Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Gahan Wilson's America

Here's how this works. I read a book or two and tell you about them and try not to get too long-winded, and maybe you'd like to think about reading them as well. This time, a review of Gahan Wilson's America (Simon & Schuster, 1985).

With the release of Fantagraphics' massive collection of Gahan Wilson's complete Playboy work just a week or two away, it's not a bad time to look back at one of the artist's earlier releases. Gahan Wilson's America was originally released in hardcover in 1985. A paperback edition, with a slightly modified cover, came out the following year.

It's a really sketchy sort of collection, which seems to feature comics and panels from several magazines, but nothing here is annotated or credited. Many of the longer pieces probably came from National Lampoon - I believe that he would have a 3-4 page strip there a couple of times a year - and some of the panels possibly came from Playboy or The New Yorker, and some might be new to the book. Who knows? The book's name is irrelevant to its contents, and might just as well have done to be called "Modern Life." Each chapter of 4-8 pages features some loose theme like doctors or technology or, of course, kids, and then presents a few Wilson cartoons which roughly fit the chapter title.

I've been noticing a lot more of these sorts of collections since I've been paying attention to the "humor" section in good used bookstores. This one came from the mighty McKay Books in Knoxville, and despite a couple of tears and dings in the dust jacket, it was well worth three bucks, much like the old Fawcett Crest Peanuts paperbacks are always worth picking up. But much in the same way that Fantagraphics' Complete Peanuts series has changed the way that we can read that series, the forthcoming Wilson Playboy collection has changed the need to get many of these older titles - and there were apparently quite a few Wilson collections in their day, similar to this. Other than the old edition of National Lampoon's Nuts (mentioned last month by Chris Mautner at Collect This Now!), I don't think there's really any need to pay a premium price for any old Wilson book, since we know that there's better on the horizon - properly archived work presented with better reproduction on better paper. Still, for three bucks, you just can't argue with work as charming as this.

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