There are many artists, writers and film directors who owe a debt to Edward Gorey. He was a true original.
Edward Gorey was a master of macabre storytelling, setting his work in either the Victorian or Edwardian period. Some of his books were wordless; others were deliciously morbid, exercising great economy of prose. Often his stories involve one or more people meeting a gruesome end. There’s mystery, drama, humour and a touch of the surreal in almost all of his works. Some people will know of Edward Gorey not by name but by the intros he made for PBS Mystery! You can view two of his intros here and here.
Gorey was said to be a rather solitary man, who lived in a house on Cape Cod, in the company of cats. Yet, he was open to meeting fans of his work, even people who showed up at his front door uninvited (Gorey was listed in the phone book). He was eccentric, and could be seen walking around town in a fur coat, his fingers cupped with rings. He liked watching soap operas, movies and attending the theatre.
Gorey’s illustrations are wonderfully distinctive. His compositions are masterful. Usually in black and white, textured with crosshatched lines, he evokes the mood of dread, despair and loneliness; his characters exude a sense of emotional detachment. The viewer becomes a voyeur or accomplice to the many dreadful acts Gorey’s characters commit on other cast members. His illustrations have inspired many illustrators to emulate his style, but no one does Gorey better than Gorey.
If I had to pick a favourite among his work, it would be the Ghastly Crumb Tinies. How could you not love a book using an alphabet that starts off with, “A is for Amy who fell down the stairs; B is for Basil assaulted by bears.”
I could describe Gorey’s work as an acquired taste, though I ‘m sure those who cannot separate the humour of the stories from their gruesome elements might never acquire it. What I will say is that Gorey’s work has brought me a lot of pleasure over the years. I list him among those special artists who, even after death, continue to have a lasting impact on new and old fans alike.
Kaja Blackley is the author of Maggie MacCormack and the Witches’ Wheel now on sale: maggiemaccormack.com