When the latest Hollywood adaption of The Addams Family was revealed to be animated, the reaction from a lot of social media accounts was "They're supposed to be real people, not cartoons!" Apparently a lot of people out there aren't familiar with the VERY beginning of this franchise, so I guess the job falls to me to educate you all. There was a real Addams once -- Charles Addams, and he was a cartoonist for The New Yorker in the 20th century.
When you think of a guy like Charles Addams, you assume he looked like this:
And that he talked with the raspy voice of a Peter Lorre caricature, and that he lived in a creaky old manor just like his characters, with skulls for decorations and live python snakes and blood in the refrigerator and a giant painting of a naked Aubrey Plaza above the mantel -- wait, I'm thinking of Aubrey Plaza's house.
But Mr. Addams actually looked like this, and he was pretty much a normal guy to everyone who knew him, with an average family. You would never know he was THAT kind of Addams unless you saw him at the drawing table. The persona entertainers create is often much wilder than the reality. In my mind, Weird Al can't possibly live anyplace else than a bounce house full of talking baloney, but I'm told he lives an ordinary domesticated life in a suburban dwelling...somehow.
So no, Charles Addams' wife was not an Elvira lookalike and his kids didn't spend their days trying to electrocute each other. But while his most popular creation has endured for generations, his original one-panel magazine gags haven't gotten that much exposure lately. So this Halloween, we're bringing them back -- and looking at over forty.
There is one problem we have to address first...The World of Charles Addams, released by Knopf Publishing in 1991 (just in time for the movie!) is a very large and heavy book whose pages I cannot fit onto my printer-scanner very easily. Thus I am forced to use my cell phone camera for these, which is why they won't look so good. I threw a million filters on 'em to make them clearer, but this also gave some of them a very washed-out appearance. And this is late as it is, being released Halloween night, so there's no time to go back and do this again. Sorry in advance.
It shouldn't surprise you that Addams had a passion for dark humor that extended well beyond his famous family. This was an early New Yorker cartoon, and there are many others like it pre-Morticia:
This one is sheer genius. I love the contrast of the brand "Sun-Glo Toilet Soap" with what everybody is seeing.
This is another favorite. One has to wonder just how awful working for that guy must be. She just does NOT give two flying figs.
I'm gonna get a lot of "How'd he get AWAY with that?" reactions to some of these, as if gallows humor hadn't been invented until the 21st century. Plenty of Addams cartoons are set either before a murder or after the fact.
This is a very Far Side-type gag, but of course it was written and drawn way before The Far Side was ever a thing. Has Gary Larson ever cited Addams as an influence? All he would have needed to do to steal this is add a cow.
It's hard to see because of my crummy camera, but that's the monster coming around the corner. I could swear I've read at least two or three Far Sides with this exact gag.
The creation of Addams's family was not instantaneous. But eventually, a spooky woman in a low-cut dress started showing up in his panels:
Then some children started popping up...
And then the father was identified....
This panel is probably offensive to people who have six toes on one foot. #CANCELCHARLESADDAMS
By the time the formula was settled on, it was solid. From the start, the majority of the Addams Family cartoons were pretty much how they've been depicted in all other media: they're casually doing something that would horrify anybody else.
Some of the cartoons would serve as direct inspiration. An entire episode of the 1964 TV series, where Pugsley joins the Boy Scouts and Morticia feels she raised him wrong, was based on this panel.
And you may recognize this panel as the opening scene from the 1991 movie.
How the Addams children are sent out....
...and how they come back home.
We're used to seeing single-panel cartoons where the focus of the joke is front and center, or at least easy to find. There are many Charles Addams cartoons, with the family and without, where finding the punchline is more of a Where's Waldo experience.
This is a prime example...it took me forever to get this one. "Wednesday makes paper cutouts and...that's it? What's different about it?" Only by inspecting each cutout individually did I find the one with three legs. And it was hours later when I realized it's impossible to make paper cutouts and have just one turn out like that...for anyone but Wednesday.
Nothing seems unusual about this one until your eyes go to the record player.
Can you find the punchline here? I'll give you a few minutes.
As time went on, and the Addams Family became more popular, they started showing up less and less in The New Yorker. The above cartoon was the last, and it was printed in the September 5, 1988 issue. Addams would pass away later that month. A few more single-panels appeared posthumously over the next two years, but none had the Family.
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