Forgottenistas, what do you think of the cartoons of Charles Addams? Like 'em? Dumb question, I suppose. For me, Gary Larson is a lot funnier when it comes to the absurd and the macabre, and I think Edward Gorey is a better artist and more daring in exploring the blacker sort of humor, but I cheerfully admit that Addams is the trailblazer here, the man who kicked open the doors for all the others.
I don't want to bore you with the same information you can get from any number of other sites. I have other things I want to bore you with. So let's be brief. Addams produced thousands of cartoons for The New Yorker and as illustrations for books and magazines, in a career lasting nearly six decades. He's famous for featuring the macabre and the absurd. Quite a lot of his cartoons involve ordinary-looking people calmly and nonchalantly plotting grisly murders or tidying up afterward. Many involve grotesque and surreal discoveries in everyday environments, like a man noticing that the guy sitting next to him on the subway has three legs.
They're Creepy and They're Kooky
What sets Addams apart from someone like Edward Gorey is the fact that much of his dark humor is laced with plain old silliness. In particular, he gradually created a family of campy horror characters in his cartoons that became the basis of the cult-classic television program, "The Addams Family" (1964-66). The show is a prime example of mid-60's monster chic, a phenomenon which serves as a handy way to classify the Haunted Mansion if you really must situate it within an immediate cultural context. (Other examples of the genre would be "The Munsters," "Milton the Monster," new cereals like Frankenberry and Count Chocula, and all those local "Creature Feature" shows in which a sepulchral host in heavy makeup cracks dreadful jokes and shows rotten old horror movies. And there is gobs of other stuff you would only know about if you grew up during that era.)
Some of you may be surprised to learn that there are only about 150 "family" cartoons in Addams' entire output, and even that number demands a great many debatable inclusions, like ones that feature an Uncle Fester-ish character as a medieval torturer or as a modern insurance salesman. If you are strict in your definitions, there are only a few dozen "family" cartoons. Nevertheless, they are the main reason Addams became famous beyond The New Yorker's readership. By the late sixties, if not earlier, he was truly a cartoonist superstar.
Seeing as how (1) the Haunted Mansion was being developed at just this time, and (2) the fact that "creepy and kooky, mysterious and spooky" became the basic formula for the attraction, it would be surprising if there were no influence from Charles Addams in its development. So is there? Well, yes and no. As we shall see, Addams was indeed a direct inspiration for both Ken Anderson and Marc Davis, and yet there is nothing in the finished Mansion that is incontrovertibly inspired by Addams. That is probably no accident, as we shall also see.
Ken Anderson and Charles Addams
It seems that no one has ever noticed that some of Ken Anderson's concept sketches for the Haunted Mansion were directly inspired by Charles Addams cartoons. I realize that in the absence of written evidence, that's a strong claim, but I think the proof is there.
This important Anderson sketch is the granddaddy of all the HM concept art leading eventually to the Grand Ballroom. It's often reproduced, and many of you have long been familiar with it. We've posted it more than once ourselves:
We find a fireplace with a shattered mirror overhead in a different Anderson sketch of a similar kind of
room, so it's possible that he appropriated that element of Addams' cartoon for use elsewhere.
accessing even his oldest work. The next example features a cartoon that first appeared in 1939.
First, take a look at this Anderson sketch from the 1957-58 period:
like a reflex of the tall, rounded windows in Ken's piece if you look closely. That's impressive, but once again,
is it really safe to claim with absolute certainty that Anderson did his sketch with this cartoon in front of him?
( loving this . . . loving this )
of macabre visuals elsewhere in the Addams oeuvre. A tip o' the hat goes to GRD for pointing out to
me that another well-known Anderson sketch was probably inspired in part by an Addams cartoon.
First, Ken Anderson:
Next, Charles Addams:
And here's the tell-tale detail that seals the deal.
We're getting used to this by now. You know, it's almost as if Anderson deliberately
left clues in these sketches indicating his source. Fun to think so, anyway.
Here's a sketch more typical of what Addams usually produced for the magazine. There's no trace
of the gothic; it's a completely modern setting. And yet it's still got a usable, macabre gag in it:
So much for Ken "Father of the Haunted Mansion" Anderson. Overall, he seems to have been more interested in borrowing ideas from Addams for the house itself than taking gags and jokes (although see the above). The other great idea man in Mansion history, Marc Davis, did exactly the opposite: he lifted gag ideas from Addams, not architecture.
Marc Davis and Charles Addams
When Alice Davis retells the story about how Walt told Marc what the Haunted Mansion should look like, she usually drops Addams' name. According to her, Marc asked Walt if he wanted a house like the sort of thing you find in Charles Addams, to which Walt replied that he did not. The inside of the place could be as musty and decayed as the Imagineers liked, but he wanted the outside looking nice. Whether or not Alice's recollection is precise on this point, there can be no doubt that Davis did indeed plan to use gag ideas inspired by Charles Addams.
(Incidentally, it seems as usual that Ken Anderson gets short shrift in these discussions. We know that Walt's desire for a pristine Mansion pre-dates Marc's involvement by the simple fact that the house was already built that way before Davis came on board with this project, and we now know that already in the fifties Anderson was visualizing an Addams-like interior for the attraction. Just giving credit where credit is due, folks.)
It seems to me this figure may well be inspired by "The Thing," who appeared in about 30 Addams cartoons. He only acquired that name with the TV program, and in the show he was only a hand, but in Addams' cartoons he was an unexplained, funny little man peeping out of nooks and crannies in the sketches, often peering through the balustrade of the upstairs balcony.
The idea of "The Thing" as a hand only is believed to be derived from a solitary 1954 Addams cartoon showing human arms sticking out of a phonograph. It's fun to compare this same cartoon with Marc Davis's concept painting of the Brick-Arm Guy, even though we'll probably never know if there's a conscious connection between the two.
With this next example we are on more solid ground. Curiously enough, it represents an Addams gag noticed not only by Marc Davis but also by Chuck Jones over at Warner Brothers, and it ended up in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. It's possible that Davis took the idea from Jones without knowing where it originally came from, and it's even possible that this is all coincidence, but I think it's most likely that Marc was inspired by the same Addams sketch as Chuck.
Look how much closer Marc's bat is to the Addams originals:
That's all very interesting, but like I said, it could be explained as something other than a direct lift from Addams. Similarly, the resemblance between Davis's table popper and "The Thing" raises suspicions but falls short of conclusive evidence for direct borrowing. Do we have anything like a smoking gun in Davis's case, as we did with Anderson? I think yes. Davis drew a concept sketch of a ghostly granny, rocking and knitting a . . . what the hell is that, anyway? Whoever (or whatever) it's for, it has at least three arms, maybe four.
In this one, he's even got a granny doing the knitting.
Like Anderson, Davis did not confine his researches to Addams' "family" cartoons. There is a striking resemblance in tone if not in subject matter between many of Davis's ideas for changing portraits and some of Addams' thought-bubble cartoons in which spouses plot each others' demise. Davis seems to have confined these jokes to homicidal women, while Addams spread the guilt more evenly between the two sexes.