Edward Gorey Before "The Gashlycrumb Tinies"

Slate's guide to consuming culture.
Nov. 15 2010 4:42 PM

Edward Gorey Before "The Gashlycrumb Tinies"

From time to time, a Slate staffer or critic offers up a favorite cultural pick for Procrastinate Better readers. Today's endorsement is from Slate assistant Julia Felsenthal.

I’ve been slightly obsessed with vintage paperbacks lately. My favorite editions are from the amazing PenguinPoets series designed by Stephen Russ , but I was delighted to happen upon this flickr collection of covers designed by American writer and illustrator, Edward Gorey , maintained by a couple of book collectors from Oakland, Calif. Though he is most famous for his own playfully macabre illustrated storybooks, from 1953 until 1960, Gorey worked as a designer at Anchor , the newly launched paperback division of Doubleday books. During that time he made his mark either as illustrator or art editor on roughly the first 200 titles that the imprint released.

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These 69 selections reveal unconventional dimensions of the artist’s early work. It’s wonderful to see Gorey’s sparsely drawn characters with very un-Gorey-like smiles on their faces ( Tristan and Iseult , Troilusand Cressida ). I love the text-only covers, like Selections From the Writings of Kierkegaard and An Elementary Textbook of Psychoanalysis ,which manage to be quintessentially Gorey, even in the absence of his usual solitary figures. My favorite though, is probably Gorey’s cover for What Maisie Knew ; Henry James’s tale of a lonely child threatened by emotionally destructive parents almost seems like it was written with the Gorey treatment in mind.