The Cartoonists by Susanna McLeod        Susanna@thecartoonists.ca

     

Charles Addams, Cartoonist and Creator of "The Addams Family"

January 30, 2013

   

The macabre, the dark, the ghoulish... the essence may set blood pulsing in panic and fear. Or, in the case of cartoonist Charles Addams, it could be a source of pure hilarity. Addams turned his delight in the creepy into panels of inspired fun like no one else. His renowned creation, The Addams Family, continues to tickle the imaginations of fans. And best of all, Addams skill and unusual interests just came naturally.

"The Addams Family" by Charles Addams

"His talent was apparent early: 'From almost the moment he could hold a crayon in his chubby little hand, Charlie had been drawing with a happy vengeance,'" wrote Linda H. Davis in "Charles Addams: A Cartoonist's Life" (Random House 2006). Leaning toward a darker sense of humour even as a child, the boy knew the direction he would take for a career. Cartooning, of course!

The son of Grace and Charles Addams, Charles Samuel Addams was born on January 7, 1912 in Westfield, New Jersey. His family encouraged his joy of drawing, and Addams' efforts were published in his high school literary magazine.

Attending Colgate University in 1929, Addams continued his education at the University of Pennsylvania, He enrolled at New York City's Grand Central School of Art, completing a year of studies in 1932. The New Yorker was the first magazine to debut the freelance cartoons of Charles Addams, his debut panel publlished on February 6, 1932. His piece earned a cheque for $7.50.

   
"The Addams Family" by Creator Charles Addams

Accepting a job in the art department of True Detective Magazine, Addams' job was to touch up photos of corpses to make them sanitized for public viewing. The order meant removing the blood from the images, and Addams must have been the right man for the job. He thought the photos looked much more interesting with the blood remaining in the image.

In 1935, Addams was hired by The New Yorker as one of their contributing cartoonists, earning $35 per piece. The revered publication "allowed Addams to explore his voice and imagination as well as hone the dark humor that would define his work," said The Biography Channel website at Biography.com. (Accessed January 24, 2013.)

Taking leave in the mid-1940s to serve in the US Army's Signals Corps during World War Two, the cartoonist returned from his duties at the Photographic Centre (in New York) to a fan base eager to have more of his ghoulishly fun work. The characters that popped up often on the page gradually evolved into familiar faces, becoming the grim, gruesome, yet endearing and sweet "Addams Family."

 

New Yorker Cover by Charles Addams
The New Yorker Cover by Charles Addams 1989

And Addams' dramatic sense of humour and strength of his characters were only part of his magic. The New York Times art critic commented on the artistic skills of Charles Addams: "Ghouls and ghosts are not the whole of Addams. The jokes are so great that we do not notice the sturdiness of the line, the rock-solid composition, the eye for scale and placement, the calculated ordinariness that lures us into the trap," wrote John Russell on Addams' obituary on September 30, 1988.

Buildings from Addams'youth became part of his panels, one of the oldest halls on the University of Pennsylvania's campus and several other large, weird homes becoming inspirations for the eerie Addams Family cartoon mansion. People were inspiring for the cartoonist as well. Addams' first wife, Barbara Jean Day, was reported to hold a strong resemblance to one of his most recognizable characters, the elegantly ghoulish Morticia Addams.

Well over a dozen collections of Charles Addams works were published, but what truly set his international fame in motion was the development of his characters into a television series in 1964. Filmed in black and white, "The Addams Family" debuted on September 18, 1964. The program lasted only two years, but quickly became a beloved part of American culture. Gomez Addams, his wife, Morticia, son Pugsley, and daughter Wednesday, plus Grandmama and Uncle Fester lead lives of happy dolefulness with a delightfully frightful host of characters. The tall and imposing butler Lurch, a self-propelling hand named "Thing" and the hairy Cousin Itt are famous for their own spirit and charm.

More programs followed on television, including animated projects. More recent, a musical theatre production of "The Addams Family" was developed in 2010. The art of Charles Addams has been exhibited across the country.

     
The Great Charles Addams

Known as a charming, dear man with a streak of the macabre, Addams displayed a flare for the weird to his own life. He enjoyed touring the occasional cemetery but "The Addams who made a point of collecting crossbows and using a little girl's tombstone for a coffee table was at least partly a character contrived for the public eye," said Davis.

However... he did marry his third wife, Tee, in a lovely ceremony in the quiet, peaceful setting of a pet cemetery. All wore black, including the bride. Hmm.

On September 29, 1988, Charles Samuel Addams died in the emergency room of St. Clare's Hospital and Medical Centre in New York City. The cartoonist had suffered a massive heart attack while sitting in his car in front of his apartment. (He had a passion for cars.)

After his passing, his wife established the Tee and Charles Addams Foundation "dedicated to advancing the artistic achievement of American cartoonist Charles Addams (1912-1988)." The Addams Family alone will ensure the perpetuation of Charles Addams in the memory of fans. (Tee Addams died in 2002.)

On the anniversary of his 100th birthday in 2008, Google celebrated the inspiring Charles Addams with his own special Google Doodle.

You can't get more famous than that, can you? Have no fear, Mr. Addams. You will not soon be forgotten.

The great Charles Addams. Image from CharlesAddams.com
© Susanna McLeod 2013
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