Suspended Animation #345
Gahan Wilson who passed away in 2019 was known for his work as an author, illustrator and cartoonist whose work primarily depicted horror and fantasy situations sometimes in a comedic manner.
While similar in approach to cartoonist Charles Addams, Wilson’s work was singularly distinctive and was generally considered impossible to animate.
However, that changed in July 1992 with the release of Gahan Wilson’s Diner, a six minute animated short written by Wilson and animated in his artistic style. It was directed by Karen Peterson and Graham Morris. It was actually produced by Marvel Productions Ltd. and released by 20th Century Fox.
On a dark and stormy night, a rookie trucker on his first assignment is asked by his supervising driver to check out on an eerie nightmarish diner where a ghoulish counter waitress and a giant monstrous cook try to put him on the menu.
Wilson told writer Richard Gehr in 2011: “The most difficult thing I’ve done so far was an animated short called Gahan Wilson’s Diner that was released in 1992 with Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It was in very bad taste but really good.
“They let me do the whole damn thing. And they took what I storyboarded and followed it meticulously. For some reason or another, they let me just do it. They didn’t fix it up.
“I went to see it in this huge movie theater, and at the end of the short the whole theater burst into applause. I thought, ‘Hot shit!’ The genius director Steven Spielberg said it was the best animated short he’d ever seen.”
In October 1993, Variety announced that Wilson was developing a full-length animated feature for Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment. The project was untitled at the time but was about vampires and was to be produced by Wilson’s producing partners Gene Kraft and Paul Winters who produced Gahan Wilson’s Diner.
Kraft and Winters had teamed with Wilson five years earlier in an effort to turn his cartoons into films. “The short demonstrated that Gahan’s work could be animated,” said Kraft.
Wilson said he had turned down previous offers for an animated feature film but relented when Amblin gave him assurance of control over his work.
“I wanted to have more control than was offered before,” said Wilson. “You have to be able to get your own vision across which comes from being able to supervise your own material. I have a nice feeling of how this will turn out.”
In addition to the Spielberg project that was never made, Wilson had several other deals in the work. He had signed a “first-look” deal with Universal Cartoon Studios to develop family entertainment. His first project was going to be a Saturday morning animated series tentatively title Monster Park. In addition, Wilson had a development deal with Disney for a primetime Halloween animated special.
Unfortunately, none of these projects were ever produced.
Produced in 2001 by Nelvana, Gahan Wilson’s The Kid was loosely based on his popular National Lampoon magazine cartoon strip Nuts that depicted how scary it was growing up from the POV of a ten year old child.
Wilson said, “The Lampoon people decided the last part of the magazine would have some comic page type stuff. They asked me to make up something so we’d have a regular page on it. And I said OK I would, and they said make it full of monsters and so on and so on because that is what I was know for doing.
“I was thinking of classical monsters and what I could take off here and take off there. I was thinking, what’s really horrible? What’s the most horrible? Then it was a bright sunny day in the city and — I can still see it. I was just sort of wandering in a park.
“There was this little kid with some grownups. He was this itsy bitsy thing with these huge towering creatures. He was trying to do this and they were making him do that (laughs).
“I watched them, fascinated, and I remembered that that was one of the roughest, toughest stages there is. You’re trying to conform to this enormous world, figure out how it works, function in it, make it do things which it doesn’t.”
The animated episodes were written by Wilson and Stan Daniels (who was one of the co-producers). The shows were directed by Larry Jacobs and Steve Daye and featured voice work by Ed Asner, Lolita Davidovich, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, William Shatner and Jennifer Tilly among others.
Three twenty-two minute episodes aired: The Cat where the kid is haunted by the ghost of the dead cat he dissected in biology class; The Waitress where the big bully Bruno tells the Kid and his friend Earl that he can undress women in his mind and they try this x-ray trick on the zoftig new young blonde waitress in the mall. The kid ends up seeing naked breasts everywhere and on everything; The Witch that takes place on Halloween night, when the Kid and his friends have covered just about every house on the street except the creepy old house on the hill.
The three separate episodes were later stitched together as a 75 minute feature film shown on the Showtime network.
Wilson’s last animated short was five minutes long and released in 2008 and entitled It Was A Dark and Silly Night. The short was directed by Steven-Charles Jaffe and meant to accompany his documentary about Wilson entitled Born Dead, Still Weird. Animation director was Laban Dickinson for 6th Avenue Productions.
It was based on a four page comic story that Neil Gaiman wrote and Wilson illustrated for the Little Lit anthology of the same name edited by Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly where multiple writers and artists used the title as a springboard for a short story.
The Gaiman-Wilson collaboration had kids throwing a party in a graveyard and literally waking the dead. The parents did not want their son Edgar and his friends to have a party because of the noise and clean-up from the last one that had messy games like Jello tag.
Edgar’s little sister suggests the Happy Rest graveyard where it is quiet and no one will care.
The children’s noisy games and Edgar’s trumpet playing have corpses coming to join the fun. Accompanied by Edgar playing Alexander’s Ragtime Band on his trumpet they teach the kids new games like Roll the Noggin and Musical Ribs and smilingly wave goodbye at the end.