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Author: Andy Duncan

Gahan Wilson, February 18, 1930 — November 21, 2019

Gahan Wilson, February 18, 1930 — November 21, 2019

Gahan-Wilson-I-think-its-his-beeper cartoon

The cartoonist Gahan Wilson, who died last Thursday, was a Guest of Honor at the first International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts that I ever attended, in 1995, and that is the scene of this story.

I arrived at the con hotel a day early, knowing no one, and mostly roamed the halls, hoping someone might talk to me. Seeing a propped-open door, I walked through it, and found myself in a big room set up for an art show, a maze of temporary walls. Hanging on them were dozens of original Gahan Wilson drawings. So much larger than the published versions, several feet to a side, these were museum-quality works, in pen and ink and pastel, their captions handwritten across the bottom.

I slowly roamed the exhibit, taking my sweet time in front of each piece. I examined them up close and from a distance. I savored every moment of that private viewing, that wholly unauthorized VIP preview experience.

And repeatedly, my path kept crossing that of the only other person in the room: a balding man in a safari jacket, holding a clipboard, who stopped in front of each piece and jotted a note. I assumed he was a conference official, some sort of curator, and I expected him to ask me, politely, to leave, and to come back when the exhibit was open.

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David G. Hartwell, July 10, 1941 – January 20, 2016

David G. Hartwell, July 10, 1941 – January 20, 2016

Photo by Andrew Porter
Photo by Andrew Porter

David G. Hartwell and I talked on the phone for about an hour Tuesday afternoon, between 3 and 4, Eastern time. I was returning his call. Once our small business was done, the conversation roamed free. David talked about the coming snowstorm and that day’s fuel-oil purchase and the pending sale of the house and how he looked forward to our having dinner at ICFA – where we met, 20 years ago, when I was an unpublished grad student, and David introduced himself to me in a hallway and thanked me for writing a paper on C.M. Kornbluth, and invited me to send it to The New York Review of Science Fiction, and welcomed me to the party.

On the phone Tuesday afternoon, David also talked about his family: Kathryn’s health, Peter’s schooling, Liz’s lunch. “There’s pasta if you’re hungry,” he yelled when Liz got home from school in mid-call, “or pickles, if you just want a snack. I’ll be off the phone in a minute.” Twenty minutes later, he still was talking, about science fiction: not the writing, not the industry, but the community.

He told firsthand anecdotes about Campbell, Delany, Merril, Russ, Sturgeon. He said Lester del Rey bought him a drink, after one contentious panel, because Lester loved newcomers who could tell Lester he was wrong, and back it up with evidence. He said his friend Philip K. Dick, like any other chronically ill person, sometimes required hospitalization, but in between episodes (in other words, mostly) was a brilliant thinker, a loving dad, a sane and solid citizen of the field.

“I love telling 50-year-old gossip,” David said, and I replied, “May we still be telling it 50 years from now.” He said, “Indeed!” and kept going.

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