Crowdfunding Friday: The Edward Gorey Documentary Project

Feature Ryan Lambie
16 May 2014 - 07:30

This week's Crowdfunding Friday is devoted to Christopher Seufert's documentary about the American writer and illustrator, Edward Gorey...

No one in the 20th century illustrated the macabre like Edward Gorey. Although populated by strange monsters and the looming spectre of death, his work was laced with humour, mischief and warmth.

Primarily self-taught, Gorey's career as a professional artist began in 1953, when he was employed as an illustrator by the New York publisher Doubleday. There, he created the book jackets and internal illustrations for a range of works, including TS Eliot and the children's books of John Bellairs. One cover for a collection of Poe tales featured a great black raven, its body silhouetted against a striking blue background.

His art for a 1960 Doubleday edition of The War Of The Worlds is a true thing of wonder: Gorey imagines HG Wells' Martian war machines against a livid purple sky, their bulky forms carried on spindly legs. Gorey's cover for a collection called Hauntings: Tales Of The Supernatural depicts a series of spectral female figures roaming the grounds of a Victorian mansion - rendered in his trademark pen and ink, it's a delicate and ethereal piece of work. 

Running parallel to his commercial pieces, Gorey wrote and illustrated a series of morbid and comically surreal books. His stories seemed to inhabit the same fantastical universe as Lewis Carroll or Edward Lear, with their period detail, intricately cross-hatched lines and dreamlike atmosphere, albeit with a mischievous and sordid sense of humour that was Gorey's alone.

With titles like The Listing Attic, The Doubtful Guest, The Curios Sofa: A Pornographic Tale By Ogred Weary and The Gashlycrumb Tinies, Gorey's gothic tales acquired a devoted readership.

By 1980, Gorey had already written and illustrated dozens of experimental and unique books, and his distinctive style was given a further boost when the PBS series, Mystery!, featured an animated opening and closing sequence based on his style. 

Gorey sadly died in 2000 at the age of 75, yet the popularity of his work has only continued to grow since. The influence of Gorey on the art and filmmaking of Tim Burton is self-evident - Burton's book, The Melancholy Death Of Oyster Boy shares much with Gorey's art and writing, from its title through to its comically grim illustrations. David Lynch is a self-confessed fan of Gorey. His books are avidly collected, and his style is regularly used as inspiration and paid homage to by artists in wildly varying disciplines.

Gorey's work is more widely recognised today than ever, yet the artist himself remains a relatively obscure figure. Filmmaker Christopher Seufert's documentary project, currently seeking funding on Kickstarter, could change all that.

In 1996, while he was still in his 20s, Seufert moved back to his home in Cape Cod after several years living either elsewhere in the US or overseas. Having discovered that the reclusive Gorey lived in the area, he wrote a letter to the artist asking if he'd be interested in being the subject of a documentary - and to Seufert's surprise, Gorey enthusiastically agreed.

By this time, Gorey was already in poor health, yet remained busy - he was still putting on stage plays, and continued to write and illustrate. Over the next three-and-a-half year, Seufert recorded some 60 hours of Gorey's thoughts and activities. 

For well over a decade, that footage has remained in a rough-cut state, and Seufert hopes to raise $38,000 to help put together a feature-length documentary, with the funds going towards the licensing of third-party TV footage and reproductions of Gorey's artwork.

In a recent interview, Seufert described Gorey's regular habit of counting the number of frogs hopping around in a fishpond outside his favourite diner, Jack's Outback. Seufert caught one of these counting rituals on camera, and Gorey's excitement when he totted up a sum total of five frogs swimming in the water.

“It’s a five frog day," Gorey happily noted. "Wow! Keep up the good work, frogs.”

When Gorey passed away on the 15th April, 2000, he left much of his estate to an animal welfare charity, which included cats, dogs, whales, bats, and, we're guessing, frogs, too.

If successful, Seufert's documentary could provide a vital insight into the sparkling mind behind those wonderful illustrations - an artist who shied away from publicity, but who nevertheless adored conversation, pop culture and the natural world.

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