December 17, 2009


Edward Gorey’s Children 3x5” Notepad. Pomegranate. $4.95.

The Fantod Pack by Edward Gorey. Pomegranate. $9.95.

Edward Gorey Bookmark Set. Pomegranate. $10.95.

Edward Gorey Magnets: The Creature Regarded Them Balefully; Chef Cat. Pomegranate. $3.50 each.

B. Kliban Magnets: Hula Cat; Here, There. Pomegranate. $3.50.

B. Kliban Rowing Cats Bookmark. Pomegranate. $1.95.

     There is nothing cuter and sweeter than the sugar-plums-and-smiles spectacle of families taking down their Christmas stockings and finding all sorts of adorable little goodies in them. If you’d like to do something about that, try these stocking stuffers this year. They’re wonderfully made, artistically designed and just as likely to bring cries of “ugh!” as ones of “wow!” But the recipients will know you meant well. Maybe.

     Really, Christmas is a perfect time to put such traditions as childhood and cartooning in proper perspective, which means to shake things up a little (hey, kids do that all the time, and so do the best cartoonists). Pomegranate has a whole line of innocent-seeming little gift items from some of the best slightly askew cartoonists of the 20th century, most notably Edward Gorey and B. Kliban. Gorey’s renditions of serious children in a vaguely Victorian or Edwardian age adorn a wonderful little 80-sheet notepad that fits neatly into a stocking and can be used by kids to send thank-you notes to family members – thereby accomplishing the dual goal of being polite and getting rid of the vaguely disturbing 80 sheets as quickly as possible without seeming ungracious. Besides – in all (or at least some) seriousness – the drawings really are attractive in their offbeat way, and there is none of the trademark Gorey mayhem here (although, to be sure, most of his mayhem occurs offstage, as it were).

     For older kids, or adults with a skewed sense of the world – especially anyone interested in classic tarot – Gorey’s The Fantod Pack makes a wonderful little gift that perfectly captures the artist’s unsettling whimsicality. The deck’s 20 cards include Gorey-invented archetypes such as the Yellow Bird and the Limb, and the pack contains a booklet with readings relating to each image – everything being just as cryptic and perhaps even more disturbing than the readings from an ordinary tarot deck. Whether The Fantod Pack was inspired by tarot cards or intended to parody them can be left for the recipient to decide. Either way, it’s in the cards.

     Gorey is in the books, too. Pomegranate makes a wonderful series of bookmarks featuring Gorey’s art and sold for $1.95 each, but if you are looking for something a bit more generous and even more fun than a single bookmark, consider the Edward Gorey Bookmark Set, which contains 10 of them for less than the cost of six individual ones. Five are black-and-white drawings from Gorey’s illustrations for T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, and they are a delight – from Bustopher Jones about to be served an elegant meal to The Old Gumbie Cat starting to conduct “Frivolitätenmusik.” Of the other five bookmarks, two – showing some of Gorey’s drawings of children – are in color, and the remaining three are as elaborate and mysterious as one would expect Gorey to be.

     “Elaborate and mysterious” also describes Gorey’s unsettling and odd drawing called The Creature Regarded Them Balefully, available as a 2x3” refrigerator magnet – large enough to pick out plenty of Gorey’s elaborate detail. The magnet shows the unidentifiable seaweed-like creature at the left, just climbing onto a pier from water that one imagines to be somewhat unhealthful, while three puzzled children – one carrying a bucket – stare at it from the right. At least the kids seem to be puzzled – as so often in his work, Gorey does not show their eyes or facial expressions, leaving it to viewers to figure out just what is going on, and what happens next….

     Gorey did get lighthearted now and then, as in his Chef Cat drawing, another refrigerator magnet that can zip out of your stocking to adorn your very own kitchen. The black-and-white cat in ballet shoes, dancing while holding a long spoon and a bowl of who-knows-what, is strictly for fun. But of course Gorey was not especially known for cats, although he often drew them. B. Kliban, on the other hand, was irremediably feline in inclination, and a refrigerator magnet with one of his cats makes a wonderful contrast with Gorey’s magnet. Hula Cat is one of Kliban’s best-known drawings, showing (in full color) a cat in a grass skirt and lei dancing while also staring at a vaguely butterfly-like flying insect – the contrast between the body motion and eye motion being especially amusing. Here, There is amusing in a different way, and oddly thought-provoking. No cats here – this drawing simply shows a person walking on a well-worn path from a big sign saying “Here” and a smaller, arrow-shaped one saying “There.” That is, the person is walking from “Here” to “There.” But at the other end of the short path, the same two signs appear – and since the path is bare but surrounded by grass, one has to assume that the person has been walking here and there, here and there, for a very long time indeed…..

     This sort of “thinking” humor is a Kliban specialty, and is combined with his frequent renditions of cats in a delightful full-color bookmark. Everyone knows that you can’t herd cats. According to this Kliban drawing, they can’t cooperate even when rowing a boat: the six portly felines are looking in six different directions and doing six different things with their oars – including being distracted by two flying fish whizzing though the air above them. But what really makes this drawing pointed is what appears at the far left: a tiny outrigger, much smaller than the cats’, being rowed speedily along by six rats working in apparently perfect unison. And the point is….well, who needs a point? The gift-giving point is that there are some wonderful stocking stuffers out there that may not be all sweetness and light, but for that very reason are likely to endure and provide enjoyment well after the Christmas season. So by all means stuff a stocking a bit strangely this year!

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