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Bend Your Head

Start your week off right with Mark Newgarden's talk with Mark Dery, author of Born to Be Posthumous, the recent biography of Edward Gorey.

One of the things I admired about Born To Be Posthumous was the careful attention paid to the individual books themselves. While stylistically of a piece, they’ve always struck me as a powerfully diverse body of work, often incorporating perverse and ingenious formal goals. What were you able to you glean about the ways that Gorey ideas gestated and Gorey books took shape?

Only what I was able to piece together through guesswork, since few interviewers ever thought to ask Gorey how he hatched ideas. He kept a little pad with him at all times, more for jotting down ideas for books or adding to his vast store of obscure or sesquipedalian words. It’s important to remember that he considered himself a writer first. (He once called his highly compressed narratives “Victorian novels all scrunched up.”) He was a devout fan of the Times crossword and an obsessive collector of archaic or arcane words or those he just found delicious. In The Nursery Frieze, he sets one of his word lists to visual music, so to speak, a procession of unrelated words marching across its pages in rhymed couplets.

But Gorey was a bona fide polymath whose encyclopedic erudition and sweeping art-historical literacy often fed his imagination: The Object-Lesson was directly inspired by the 18th-century dramatist Samuel Foote’s nonsense poem “The Grand Panjandrum”; The West Wing nods to Magritte and Ernst’s collage novels and the Egyptian Book of the Dead; he got the idea for his unfinished book, The Interesting List, from the fictitious taxonomy cited by Jorge Luis Borges in his essay “The Analytical Language of John Wilkins”; The Pious Infant is a deadpan parody of Puritan children’s literature, specifically A Token for Children: Being an Exact Account of the Conversion, Holy and Exemplary Lives, and Joyful Deaths of Several Young Children (1671–'72) by the Puritan divine James Janeway; The Hapless Child was inspired by L’Enfant de Paris (1913), a silent movie by the French director Léonce Perret, which as I noted in the book Gorey saw just once, at one of the Museum of Modern Art’s Saturday morning screenings. (He had a remarkable visual memory; it seems to have been photographic, or close to it—he claimed to be able to watch, in his head, any of the New York City Ballet performances he’d ever seen, and he saw thousands in the course of his nearly three decades of ballet-going.)

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. The Angoulême festival has announced this year's winners. The Grand Prix went to Rumiko Takahashi, and the Fauve d'Or to Emil Ferris's My Favorite Thing Is Monsters.

The huge staffing cuts at Gannett last week claimed hundreds of newspaper jobs, including those of cartoonist Charlie Daniel and Pulitzer winner Steve Benson.

Benson is a veteran of the Republic, joining the paper in 1981. He won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning in 1993 and was a finalist for the award in 1984, 1989, 1992, and 1994. Although most of his career has been in Arizona, he did a brief stint at the Morning News Tribune in Tacoma, Washington in the early ’90s.

Republic executive editor Greg Burton deferred questions to a Gannett spokesperson. The spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

—Reviews & Commentary. Louis Proyect comments on a new collection of the Gilbert Shelton-edited Radical America Komiks.

Turning to the actual work in Komiks, you will find much of it a lot rawer than what you might have expected in a comic book put out by the Trotskyists or the CP (not that these sects would have ever thought outside the box.) The old left esthetic was very much in the agitprop vein, with clearly delineated heroes and villains—the working class on one side of the barricades and the bosses on the other.

—Interviews & Profiles. Françoise Mouly speaks briefly to Tom Gauld about his new New Yorker cover.

I don’t think I’ve ever even attempted to grow anything indoors. I like the idea of gardening but never get around to actually doing much. When I conceived this image, I was thinking of my uncle’s house when I was a child. We lived in the countryside with a big garden surrounded by fields and forests, but he lived in the city in a small house that was completely stuffed with plants. It made a real impression on me, and I can clearly remember sleeping there once with a big plant looming over me.


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