Edward Gorey Google doodle February 22, 2013
Today, the homepage of Google honors illustrator Edward Gorey’s (would have been) 88th birthday with a “Google doodle” paying homage to his work. If you look at the man sitting in the curve of the “G” of Google, you’ll notice it is a portrait of Mr. Gorey! He was known as a cat-lover, hence the kitties crawling about, as well as characters from some of his books.
When I was in elementary school, I remember checking out the few books I could find by Gorey. If I recall correctly, I found more of his works at the public libraries than at my school library. Afterall, his books are a bit dark and macabre—not the kind of stuff school boards support in Indiana. But I am grateful I did stumble upon his work. I remember feeling bored with Dr. Seuss books, but being challenged by Gorey’s macabre humor and “exotic” illustration style. Black and white ink cross-hatching is very exotic to child when the more accepted norm is books filled with simplistic, primary colored worlds. When my mother would turn on PBS and I recognized his art in the animated intro at the beginning of the television series “Mystery!” (remember the sound of the fainting damsel’s voice?), I thought I was extra fancy and cultured.
One simple way to gauge an Author/Illustrator’s sense of style is through his or her alphabet book, a staple of all children’s book creators. Gorey’s A to Z book “The Gashlycrumb Tinies” is an amusing classic that made me giggle and wonder as a child, and still makes me laugh today. Even as a child, I recognized the absurdity of a child dying of gin poisoning. Below is a YouTube video creatively narrated by a velvety dark and somber voice, and augmented with imaginative sound effects. A fan of pop culture, I think Gorey would’ve approved of this adaptation.
Looking at a few other Gorey titles playfully illustrated on YouTube, I took a stroll down memory lane. I got to thinking about some of the other wonderful Artists I enjoyed as a child. Interestingly, my favorites are just as wonderful to read and view as an adult. I must have read Roald Dahl’s “James and the Giant Peach” ten times as a fourth grader. I secretly wanted to report the book lost and keep it for myself. But I knew stealing—even in the name of art loving—was wrong. I also remember my schools hosting “Poetry Week” each year. Shel Silverstein was always at the top of my list: “Sara Cynthia Sylvia Stout would not take the garbage out! “ By the time I was in middle school, I relished Edgar Allan Poe and Franz Kafka short stories.
It’s hard to believe I never went through a Goth phase as a teenager. I guess I just like to laugh too much for that sort of ennui. I am grateful my mother never negatively judged nor turned her nose up at my oddball literary interests. Afterall, at least I was reading (which I’ve always had a hard time doing efficiently), and WOW did my choice of favorites really allow me to exercise immense imagination! Thanks to the twisted, deliciously dark, and intensely creative Illustrators and nonsensical Writers like Gorey, Silverstein, and Dahl, my often lonely and introverted childhood flourished in ways I remember more fondly than time spent on the merry-go-round. The ability and freedom to exercise my imagination as a child played an extremely important role in my later education and the critical thinking, creativity, and writing I now do professionally.
To this day, I am a firm believer that a child’s first exposure to the Fine Arts comes through the illustrated books they experience at bedtime and in the classroom. Before they have the patience to spend hours in a museum or sit through a ballet, they are devouring hundreds of pages of words and images in children’s books. And there are some truly amazing ones out there.
My eight year old niece’s very favorite places to visit when she stays with me in Chicago are Barnes & Noble bookstore, Harold Washington Public Library, and the museums. While I cannot take credit for her love of books, I am delighted she has interests I can not only relate to but also easily help cultivate. I think it’s time to crack open some Shel Silverstein during her next weekend with me, and pass along more opportunities to love ideas, worlds, and pictures she may not get in her parochial schooling.
Cheers to Edward Gorey and all the other wickedly wonderful Writers and Illustrators that made my childhood so weird and entertaining!