Edward Gorey, master of the macabre

GOREY-10-articleLarge.jpg Mark Dery writes in the NYT how Edward Gorey's fabulous, sinister drawings haunt the collective subconscious, inspiring the artistry behind Alice, Coraline and other blockbusters.
Gorey was born to be posthumous. His poisonously funny little picture books -- deadpan accounts of murder, disaster and discreet depravity, narrated in a voice that affects the world-weary tone of British novelists like Ronald Firbank and Ivy Compton-Burnett -- established him as the master of high-camp macabre.
Nightshade Is Growing Like Weeds [NYT]

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  1. How can you write an article about Edward Gorey and not even mention Charles Addams?

  2. And… how can you say he haunts the collective subconscious when he’s clearly haunting Tim Burton’s conscious? This is like saying Tolkien is some kind of hidden muse in fantasy, when actually, it’s just that everyone is ripping his ideas off over and over. Tim Burton hasn’t done anything original, like, ever- his entire existence is based on stealing from really obvious places: B-movies, German Expressionists, and Mr. Gorey… there’s nothing “subconscious” about it.

  3. I like Edward Gorey and don’t mind when people like Tim Burton rip off his work, because if you’re going to steal you should do so from the best.

    What I can’t forgive Burton for is transforming a beloved and whimsical children’s book into an uninspired “Lord of the Rings”-style war epic.

    1. He’s obviously stealing from the best, but the final product leave very much to be desired. Kevin Smith said he only had 5 movies in him, and whether that exact number is true may be debated, but I’d say something very similar about Burton, and I think Timmy has probably burned through his number already. But I’m sure his next tale of charming misunderstood gothic youth with parent issues goes on a journey of self-discovery in an attempt to grow and achieve balance/respect/adulthood will make him many more millions via Hot Topic.

        1. Oh snap! That was perfect. Thanks for sharing.
          I love Burton, but seriously dude’s got a limited range and it’s like Tim Burton is becoming a caricature of Time Burton, falling on his same old tired cliches. And I also wish people would understand he’s a DIRECTOR. Tim’s not running around doing all the stop motion, scoring and scripting the film, playing the instruments, filming, editing, shipping, advertising and everything else that goes along with making a film. Sometimes he just does a few quick ink and watercolor character sketches and then slaps his name really prominently in a spooky font above the title at the end. Pay no attention to Henry Selick, the man behind the curtain.

        2. Jesus-Christ-on-a-bike I’ve got to learn to hit that reply link.

          That last comment was to Brainspore, regarding the link to an amusing video that you posted.

  4. I’m a big Gorey fan, but everyone yammering on about how Burton “ripped off” Gorey is blowing hot air. Go ahead, show me a Gorey drawing that’s remotely similar to the still from Alice posted above: the enormous head on the Red Queen, the use of animals, even the use of color (Gorey worked almost exclusively in black and white).

    Yes, Burton was influenced by Gorey, German expressionists, etc., but that doesn’t make him a “rip-off”, any more than doing up a fantasy that features dwarves and elves is a rip-off of Tolkien. Your favorite artist had their own influences (as thenextstopwillbe pointed out, Gorey is heavily influenced by Charles Addams).

    1. You’re right- “rip-off” is too accusatory a term, especially for “Alice.” If anything the Burton film closest to Gorey’s style was “Nightmare before Christmas.” But I suppose anyone with a name like yours probably knew that. ;)

    2. Not sure who is “everyone” since the world seems to love the guy. It’s not hard to see the difference between “influence” and “rip-off”. Terry Gilliam is influenced by a lot of things (Mad Magazine, for one) but his work is wholly original. No one makes movies like Gilliam- even if you hate him, you have to accept he has an original vision in his work. Conversely, everyone makes movies like Tim Burton, because there’s nothing substantial or unique in his movies- just consciously-stolen ideas that were done better the first time around. The guy is pure fluff without a shred of originality to his work, despite all his accolades, which shows you how limited our culture’s vision is. No, I don’t think “rip-off” is too harsh when speaking of Mr. Burton’s oeuvre.

      1. everyone makes movies like Tim Burton

        Well, no. Tim Burton occasionally makes movies like those of other directors–I thought that his Planet of the Apes was a confusing, boring pastiche of the original–but no one has made anything like Beetlejuice or Edward Scissorhands or The Nightmare Before Christmas… you may think that Beetlejuice, for example, isn’t original because of the whole goth culture, but it wasn’t nearly as widespread or prominent as it was in 1988, the year the film was made, and there sure as shit weren’t any films visually quoting German expressionism. Burton’s real problem is that, yes, he does have his favorite themes and tropes, and he’s been around long enough that they’ve also saturated the culture (the influence that his Batman movies have had on modern superhero movies, for example, can’t be overstated). He’s a victim of his own success.

        1. Beetle Juice? See Monkeybone.

          Nightmare Before Christmas? See Coraline.

          Wow, that was hard. Shit I didn’t think for more than 1.2 seconds.

  5. I can’t say that I see a lot of resemblance in the work, it’s like when people say that every large flower painting is a nod to Georgia O’Keeffe when it’s actually more likely that it’s based on a macro photo of a flower.

  6. I had the world’s greatest 4th grade teacher, who would read us a chapter from a John Bellairs novel to us every day. “The Eyes of the Killer Robot” provided the fuel for many a night terror, especially with the weird Gorey wraparound dust jacket.

  7. I’ve been a fan of Gorey’s since the 70s, when I first came across my sister’s paperback collections entitled Amphigorey and Amphigorey Too. His verse includes the only poems I’ve ever bothered to commit to memory, and his artwork remains among my very favorites. I’ve noticed how much he’s influenced other artists in the last few decades, and it doesn’t surprise me a bit.

    But Burton’s Alice? I just don’t see it. I was profoundly disappointed by that movie for a number of reasons, so I only saw it once, and I can’t remember one bit of it that struck me as obviously influenced by Gorey.

    I usually enjoy Burton’s work (Corpse Bride and his Batman movies excepted), but man, what a wasted opportunity was his Alice in Wonderland. I thought he’d be the perfect guy for it, but IMHO he should have taken one look at Linda Woolverton’s script and run screaming from the building.

  8. Gorey is rightly known and appreciated for his illustration style, but the thing I’ve always loved most about him is the actual writing. The guy was obviously a word-nerd, so verbal exotica is always present, and the narratives usually have this lovely quality of seeming coherent without quite making sense, or of requiring the reader to do much of the work of filling in the narrative gaps. I love the illustrations, but I think I’d still love Gorey without them.

  9. I thought Burton’s ‘Alice’ was based of Mark Ryden art not Gorey..I’m not a fan of Ryden’s stuff and disliked the movie immensely (I’m a HUGE Alice in Wonderland fan too), but Gorey rules.

  10. That cut me up. Particularly the Danny Elfman score.

    I’m not a big fan of Tim Burton, I find his stuff a bit twee and his Batman pissed me off, but I think his style is his own, despite his influences. He was drawing some of his characters like Edward scissor hands in high school, he’s a great artist.

  11. I love Edward Gorey and his work, but I’m pretty sure ‘Alice’ was inspired by the original drawings by John Tenniel. And how can you mention Gorey without going back to Aubrey Beardsley, Albrecht Durer, Gustave Dore, and Francisco Goya? Boy, those are a bit influential, too!!

    And I must agree with another user that the picture-perfect work of Ryden and other contemporary/pop painters is pretty influential on things, and so is the hyperreal photography of David LaChapelle.

    All I am saying it’s pretty bold to go back to one favorite artist and say that it was the direct inspiration for A,B, and C, when it was clearly inspired by lots of things.

  12. But Nightmare Before Christmas came out in 1993, Coraline (the novella by Neil Gaiman) came out in 2002. Or are you talking about something else?

  13. I love Edward Gorey and his work, but I’m pretty sure ‘Alice’ was inspired by the original drawings by John Tenniel. And how can you mention Gorey without going back to Aubrey Beardsley, Albrecht Durer, Gustave Dore, and Francisco Goya? Boy, those are a bit influential, too!!

    And I must agree with another user that the picture-perfect work of Ryden and other contemporary/pop painters is pretty influential on things, and so is the hyperreal photography of David LaChapelle.

    All I am saying it’s pretty bold to go back to one favorite artist and say that it was the direct inspiration for A,B, and C, when it was clearly inspired by lots of things.

  14. I’m with Halloween Jack, and maybe others here (didn’t read all of the comments): I fail to see any blatant connection between ‘Alice’ and Gorey. I think you’re stretching. And if you say, “Oh, well, Gorey was into darkness,” well then we can just keep going back to masters of gothic art since probably time unmemorable and unwritten. Oooh – I know – Heronimous Bosch painted creepy beings with misshapen and mutated body parts – Tim Burton is TOTALLY ripping him off! Oh, I’ll bet Bosch’s just turning in his grave.

    Come on. Get over it. I’ve seen some blatant nods and rip-offs, even…. but ‘Alice’ is not one of them.

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