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A Documentary Tribute To A Great Cartoonist

When I was young, my first ambition was to be a magazine cartoonist. I wrote to some of my heroes and received wonderful, encouraging letters in return; I even have rejection slips from The New Yorker and Saturday Evening Post. But I didn’t take art lessons to improve my skills, and even I could see that my work wasn’t really up to snuff. Not so for Gahan Wilson, who has been creating unique and wonderful drawings for decades and still contributes to the two remaining havens for panel cartoons, Playboy and The New Yorker. Gahan Wilson-Still WierdSix years ago I was lucky enough to see a heartfelt documentary about Wilson, made as a labor of love by Steven-Charles Jaffe, whose producing credits include such mainstream movies as Ghost and K-19: The Widowmaker.
Although it had some film festival exposure and a warmly-received screening at Comic-Con, Born Dead, Still Weird never got a theatrical release or the kind of attention I think it deserves. It features testimonials from such fans and admirers as Stephen Colbert, Stan Lee, Guillermo del Toro, Hugh Hefner, Randy Newman, Lewis Black, and Neil Gaiman. It’s easy to see why so many creative people have been drawn (no pun intended) to Wilson’s bizarre cartoons and their Grand Guignol sense of humor.

Best of all, Jaffe lets us in on an experience few outsiders have ever witnessed: a pitch meeting at The New Yorker with cartoon editor Bob Mankoff. As an erstwhile aspiring cartoonist, this sequence gave me chills.

When I first told Jaffe how much I liked his film, he explained that he made it with his own money—long before anyone heard of crowdsourcing—and was having trouble getting distribution. He also told me, “I have gained so much respect for not just Gahan, but all of these wonderful cartoonists whose lives remind me of something out of Arthur Miller and Charles Dickens.”

You can read more about the film HERE and watch the trailer…but even better, you can now watch it at home via iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Xbox Video, Playstation, Google Play, and Vudu. It’s a gem of a documentary, and if you enjoy it as much as I did, I hope you’ll spread the word.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at leonardmaltin.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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