Several years ago I was at a science fiction convention and wandered into a room where an author I wanted to meet was supposed to speak, except he didn’t show up, so they had an alternate speaker who I thought was even better. It was the cartoonist and author Gahan Wilson, whose birthday is today.
I was already familiar with Wilson’s work because my parents occasionally had issues of The New Yorker lying around the house and I didn’t read the articles but I did look at the pictures, and my father also had a collection of Playboy issues and I didn’t read the articles there either but I did look at the pictures—and by “pictures” of course I mean Gahan Wilson’s cartoons.
Wilson started with a story about the origin of one of his most famous cartoons. National Lampoon was looking for cartoons with the caption, “Is nothing sacred?”
Wilson didn’t have a copy of the cartoon he drew. He just described it to us. At first there were a few chuckles through the audience, then more of us started giggling, and by the time he got to the punchline the whole room was laughing.
There’s an old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words but Wilson effectively captured the picture in about a tenth that number. Even now I can’t say which is funnier: the picture itself or his telling. His telling had a bonus punchline: “National Lampoon thought it was too weird so Playboy bought it instead.”
He’d go on to have work published in National Lampoon with his long-running series Nuts, drawing on his childhood, but it’s still funny to me that they turned down such a brilliant cartoon. I guess they didn’t look at the picture.