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Edward Gorey’s Donald Illustrations

A boy, a monster, and a loving mid-century collaboration.

In September of 1968, author and editor Peter F. Neumeyer embarked upon a thirteen-month collaboration with the inimitable Edward Gorey — mid-century illustrator extraordinaire, grim alphabetician, irony connoisseur, tongue-in-cheek pornographer. Their remarkable illustrated correspondence tackled topics as diverse ad metaphysics and pancake recipes, but focused primarily on the three books at the heart of their collaboration. The third book, Why We Have Day and Night, was released last year and was among the year’s best children’s books. The first two are now out as a boxed set for the first time in The Donald Boxed Set: Donald and the . . . & Donald Has a Difficulty — a lovely duo of smyth-sewn casebound books in a beautiful slip-case, brimming with Gorey’s signature black-and-white illustrations of eccentric characters and strange creatures.

The Donald series was supposed to go on forever. Neumeyer reminisces:

Gorey writing me at one point, ‘I have just purchased lots of pristine new file folders. They await such things as… revised Donalds, new Donalds, new Lionels [another series], what else?’ Another time, he wrote that ‘[M]y mind’s eye sees a shelf of Neumeyer/Gorey works. Will Harvard have a room devoted to our memorabilia? It had better.’

But the perpetual Donald never quite manifested. Neumeyer writes wistfully:

The unending series never came to be, though shortly before his death, Ted once again returned to Donald. How far he got, only perusal of his vast legacy of papers would show.

Ted slipped away, a good, kind man of very specific genius. As I roam my bookshelves today, I can reconstruct some of the enthusiasms of that most generous of friends — a few of the many books he insisted on sending me so we could talk about them: Cyril Connolly’s The Unquiet Grave and The Rock Pool; four volumes of Haiku, translated b R. H. Blyth; L. H. Myers’s The Near and the Far; Raymond Queneau’s The Blue Flowers and Exercises in Style; Flann O’Brien’s The Best of Myles; Rayner Heppenstall’s The Greater Infortune; The Journal of Jules Renard (edited and translated by Louise Bogan and Elizabeth Roget); and a beautiful giant Abrams book on Pisanello — and many, many more.

Heaven would be to resume those conversations.

More than a treat for young readers, The Donald Boxed Set is an exquisite piece of Gorey memorabilia and a delightful embodiment a warm, inspired collaboration, the whimsical layers of which unfold in Floating Worlds: The Letters of Edward Gorey and Peter F. Neumeyer — one of the 11 best art and design books of 2011.

Illustrations © The Edward Gorey Charitable Trust. All rights reserved.


Scrap Irony: Irreverent Illustrated Cultural Commentary by Edward Gorey circa 1961

What the physiological effects of space flight have to do with the art of courtship and the Oedipus complex.

Inimitable mid-century illustrator Edward Gorey — notorious letter-writer, illuminator of day and night, purveyor of mischievous eroticism — had a rare gift for irreverent storytelling and dark humor, so it was only fitting he would parter with poet and satirist Felicia Lamport. Over the course of more than two decades, Gorey illustrated three of Lamport’s satirical verse collections, beginning in 1961 with Scrap Irony — an anthology of witty, sarcastic observations on everything from courtship to vice to the era’s hottest technologies, like cybernetics and space flight. Gorey created artwork for the dust jacket, title page, chapter titles, and many of the individual poems. With Gorey’s visual irreverence and Lamport’s penchant for puns, the book defined snark long before snark was a weapon of choice in the arsenal of modern hipsters.

Though the book is long out of print, you can find a copy with some sifting through Amazon or, if you’re lucky, your favorite local Gorey-loving bookstore.


Viewers Like You: Edward Gorey’s Animated Intro for PBS’s Mystery

Lessons in giving from the master of the macabre.

I have a well-documented soft spot for legendary mid-century illustrator Edward Gorey, whose stories about mischievous children and curious creatures influenced generations of creators as diverse as Nine Inch Nails and Tim Burton, and who even eleven years after his death managed to delight us with one of the best children’s books of 2011. But what catapulted Gorey into cultural cachet were his animated introductions for the PBS show Mystery! in 1980 — an absolute micro-treat of Goreyesque grim whimsy.

As a regular supporter of public media (and myself the proprietor of what’s essentially a donation-based public service), I’m particularly delighted by Gorey’s refreshing take on the familiar “viewers like you” message — easily the most charming way to ask for a donation.


The Curious Sofa: Edward Gorey’s Vintage “Porno-graphic” Children’s Book for Adults

A naughty illustrated tale of mad mid-century matinees.

I have an enormous soft spot for Edward Gorey (February 22, 1925–April 15, 2000), mid-century illustrator of stories about mischievous children, mean grown-ups, and curious creatures, whose work influenced generations of creators as diverse as Nine Inch Nails and Tim Burton, and who even eleven years after his death managed to delight us with one of the best children’s books of 2011. In 1961, using his anagram pen name, Gorey published The Curious Sofa: A Pornographic Work by Ogdred Weary (public library) — a delightfully dark quasi-pornographic (that is, without actual nudity) quasi-horror (without actual blood and gore) “illustrated story about furniture.” Though none of the drawings are overtly sexual, plenty of innuendo and strategically placed tree branches, urns, room dividers, and other props ensure your imagination stays on the frisky side.

The story continues with charmingly naughty illustrated tales of Alice’s encounter with a “delightfully sympathetic” maid, a pool party of the unusual variety, a backseat reading from the Encyclopedia of Unimaginable Customs, some “remarkably well-set-up” young men from the nearby village, a terrace romp, and — it wouldn’t be Gorey otherwise — an out-of-the-blue, matter-of-factly death in between.

And then, of course, the “curious sofa” makes its much-anticipated cameo.

You’d have to read the rest to find out why Alice is so appalled and what happens next.

Wonderfully naughty in that nicely Goreyesque way, The Curious Sofa is like a children’s book for grown-ups — roguishly risqué grown-ups. And if this is the kind of thing that gets you creatively excited, don’t forget the charming Ancient Book of Sex and Science, a racy side project by four Pixar animators.

HT @MiaFarrow; cover photograph courtesy of VikingBanna


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