A was launched to recognize American queer artist Edward Gorey, whose “eerie whimsical” drawings have inspired everyone from novelist Lemony Snicket to director Tim Burton, with a U.S. postage stamp on his 100th birthday in 2025.
“Eccentric” isn’t strong enough to describe the writer, illustrator, puppeteer and theater designer some call the “grandfather of goth.”
The Late Ballet Fanatic stalked 60s and 70s New York in ripped jeans, raccoon fur coat, costume jewelry and an Edwardian beard, and kept a mummified head stored in a closet.
Gorey created over 100 little books filled with morbid, camp, and Victorian cross-hatching prints, including The Glorious Nosebleed, The Fatal Lozenge, and The Tiny Gashlycrumbs, which sent children into rhyming couplets (beginning with “A is for Amy who fell down the stairs” and ending with “Z is for Zillah who drank too much gin”). He died surrounded by £25,000, leaving his fortune to animal charities in honor of his six cats.
“Goreyphiles” include filmmakers Wes Anderson and Monty Python, fashion designer Anna Sui, Snicket creator Daniel Handler and Coraline author Neil Gaiman. His most obvious “fan”, Burton, remains silent, although the set designer of The Corpse Bride and Nightmare Before Christmas would have confirmed the influence.
Still, it’s not a household name.
“He’s that oxymoron: a traditional cult,” said Mark Dery, author of a biography of Gorey, Born to Be Posthumous.
“People who do culture are influenced by Gorey but…ordinary people who regularly eat Hollywood blockbusters and Marvel franchises might not know they to know Gorey without knowing him.
Edward Gorey’s housea museum opened in his 200-year-old home in Yarmouth Port, Cape Cod, Massachusetts, after his death in 2000 at the age of 75, hopes to change that.
Last month they organized a letter-writing campaign at the U.S. Postal Service, with Gorey now reaching “committee stage” to be considered a celebrity stamp.
Past examples include author James Baldwin, astronaut Sally Ride, and this year, Native American and African American sculptor Edmonia Lewis.
Why did recognition take so long?
Dery said, “In my opinion, what made him inimitable for becoming a mass phenomenon…and taking his place in the pantheon of American culture…was his profound queerness.”
Gorey rejected the classification: a gothic writer who wasn’t gothic, a children’s author who didn’t write for children, a founder of the graphic novel genre who insisted he wrote “all crumpled Victorian novels “.
Whether he identifies as LGBT+ is a fierce debate between those who view him as a workaholic more interested in cats, and otherslike Fun Home author Alison Bechdel, who reveres the homosexuality emblematic of her work, regardless of her personal preference.
In 1980 Gorey told Boston magazine “I guess I’m gay”, but said he didn’t like the label, being “gendered” and “a person before I was something else”.
(Ironically, this led to it being labeled as asexual or non-binary.)
“He was a mysterious man,” said Kevin Shortsleeve, an associate professor of children’s literature at Christopher Newport University in Virginia, who considers Gorey on a par with Maurice Sendak, a contemporary Goreyphile who wrote the popular Where the wild things are.
“He left ambiguity, unfinished endings, essentially ‘white space’, in his work and his life…letting people read between the lines and fill in themselves.”
Born in Chicago in 1925, the hardcore Anglophile was inspired by the acid-tongued 19th-century British LGBT+ satirists and “literary absurd” writers, including Oscar Wilde, Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear, cautionary tales, Comics Penny Dreadful and drawings engraved on wood.
He graduated from Harvard in 1950, is said to have been a member of its “gay metro” with her roommate, poet Frank O’Hara, during the rise of McCarthyism when LGBT+ communities were seen as the ‘lavender menace’.
Professor Shortsleeve attributes the lack of mainstream success in part to this “conservative, pre-Stonewall era”, with “sanitized” literature and LGBT+ figures living “flamboyant”, coded lives hidden in plain sight.
The Curious Sofa did not help.
Billed on the cover as “pornographic” but containing no nudity, the “action” taking place in the form of furtive glances and innuendo, the 1961 book was eagerly stocked by children’s bookstores eager to repeat the success of Wuggly Ump – but was quickly removed.
“People were scared of him,” Shortsleeve said.
“His transgressive work marks a huge leap forward in absurd, modernist and postmodern literature that has gone unrecognized. When I ask 30 students who he is, one person raises their hand. For those who to knowits impact is incalculable.
One fanbase he may have embraced is the positive death movement.
In 2018 The Hall of Death held a Gorey party at Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts, complete with funeral directors and a “macabre haute” dress code. The $225 tickets sold out within 24 hours.
Megan Rosenbloom, the director of Death Salon, praised Gorey’s gallows humor in the face of “western death denial”, adding, “I have the same fuzzy feeling about Gorey as others from Winnie the Pooh .”
According to legend, Gorey left New York for Cape Town “in protest” when the ballet director George Balanchinewhose performances he never missed, died in 1983.
Although he didn’t immediately occupy the abandoned house he bought, to avoid moving the raccoons until they were “ready”.
New York Studio School art historian Karen Wilkin, who befriended him as a ballet student, recalls rooms “bordering on hoarding…suffering from chips”, with Gorey “a cultural encyclopedia” obsessively watching Japanese silent movies or Buffy the Vampire Slayer, while sewing puppets now go look thousands.
“I can hear his sighs,” she said of the stamp campaign, “like: ‘Why do they do that?’. Secretly, he would have liked that.
One man who would buy many stamps is Ken Morton, son of Gorey’s cousin Skee, immortalized in The Deranged Cousins (Sotheby’s is selling a first edition for $1,100), and the only child whose relationship with Gorey did not involve ink murder.
“I had no idea his…fame when I was growing up,” said Morton, who remembers “Uncle Ted” in denim shorts doing puzzles.
“It was after his death that I learned how important he was on a global scale. He can actually be second to none.
At Gorey’s, between “dead” puppets thrown under flea-purged rugs (“G is for Gregory smothered under a rug”), a quote on the wall reads, “Life is inherently, well, boring and dangerous at the At any time, the floor can open. Of course, it almost always does; that’s what makes it so annoying.