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A Documentary Tribute To A Great Cartoonist

Reviews
by Leonard Maltin
June 10, 2014 2:21 AM
3 Comments
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When I was young, my first ambition was to be a magazine cartoonist. I wrote to some of my heroes and received wonderful, encouraging letters in return; I even have rejection slips from The New Yorker and Saturday Evening Post. But I didn’t take art lessons to improve my skills, and even I could see that my work wasn’t really up to snuff. Not so for Gahan Wilson, who has been creating unique and wonderful drawings for decades and still contributes to the two remaining havens for panel cartoons, Playboy and The New Yorker. Six years ago I was lucky enough to see a heartfelt documentary about Wilson, made as a labor of love by Steven-Charles Jaffe, whose producing credits include such mainstream movies as Ghost and K-19: The Widowmaker.

Although it had some film festival exposure and a warmly-received screening at Comic-Con, Born Dead, Still Weird never got a theatrical release or the kind of attention I think it deserves. It features testimonials from such fans and admirers as Stephen Colbert, Stan Lee, Guillermo del Toro, Hugh Hefner, Randy Newman, Lewis Black, and Neil Gaiman. It’s easy to see why so many creative people have been drawn (no pun intended) to Wilson’s bizarre cartoons and their Grand Guignol sense of humor.

Best of all, Jaffe lets us in on an experience few outsiders have ever witnessed: a pitch meeting at The New Yorker with cartoon editor Bob Mankoff. As an erstwhile aspiring cartoonist, this sequence gave me chills.

When I first told Jaffe how much I liked his film, he explained that he made it with his own money—long before anyone heard of crowdsourcing—and was having trouble getting distribution. He also told me, “I have gained so much respect for not just Gahan, but all of these wonderful cartoonists whose lives remind me of something out of Arthur Miller and Charles Dickens.”

You can read more about the film HERE and watch the trailer…but even better, you can now watch it at home via iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Xbox Video, Playstation, Google Play, and Vudu. It’s a gem of a documentary, and if you enjoy it as much as I did, I hope you’ll spread the word.

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3 Comments

  • Norm | June 10, 2014 4:59 PMReply

    Very nice LM, poetry indeed to another author of the American Culture...

  • Nat Segaloff | June 10, 2014 3:50 PMReply

    Love Gahan and his author-wife Nancy. He committed an act of great kindness to me years ago and I have never forgotten it. Or his heartwarming artistry.

  • mike schlesinger | June 10, 2014 3:35 PMReply

    Just for the record, it did get a limited theatrical release; I saw it at Laemmle's NoHo last year. And yes, it's splendid.

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