Charles (Samuel) Addams Wolcott Gibbs - Essay

Wolcott Gibbs

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

New Yorker cartoons can be roughly divided into two classifications, which, back in the days when I was the most insanely miscast of an almost endless procession of art editors, were conveniently designated as "straight" and "nutty." (p. 5)

[The latter type], rather menacingly displayed in the pages of this book, [Addams and Evil] is harder to define, since it is less a criticism of any local system than a total and melodramatic re-arrangement of all life. Unlike the reportorial artist, whose scenes and personnel are ready-made, the man who draws pictures like those assembled here is obliged to create a nightmare landscape of his own and to people it with men, beasts, and even machines whose appearance and behavior are terribly at variance with the observable universe. He is, generally speaking, successful to the precise extent to which his creations seem peculiar, disturbing, and even outrageous to the normal, balanced mind. In my opinion, the subject of these notes—a man named Charles Addams—is one of the most outrageous artists in America in the sense that his work is essentially a denial of all spiritual and physical evolution in the human race. Some of this book is merely disconcerting—if, of course, it is no more than disconcerting for a couple in a hotel room to watch the sprouting of a pattern of knife points in the wall, unmistakably outlining a shrinking female form—but most of it is frankly devoted to man's crazy, triumphant return to the mud from which he came. The monsters in Addams' world are still in the minority …, but it is only too clear that actually these are the dominant strain, that somehow, as if God had shrugged His shoulders and given up the world, natural selection has reversed itself and presently our civilization will once again belong to the misshapen, the moonstruck, and the damned. (pp. 5-6)

Wolcott Gibbs, in an introduction to Addams and Evil by Charles Addams, Simon & Schuster, 1947, pp. 5-7.