Gorey had a thing for melodrama, mystery, and surrealism - think of Max Ernst's sinister collages of 19th-century illustrations. He consumed true-crime tales, Agatha Christie, soap operas (General Hospital, All My Children), sit-coms (The Golden Girls), Jane Austen, The Tale of Genji, and horror flicks (Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street). His own animated scenarios have illustrated the opening credits of PBS's Mystery! series. Pinned above his drawing table were postcards of Goya and Matisse.
This exhibit, which was organized by Pennsylvania's Brandywine River Museum, includes some 180 works: sketchbooks, thumbnails (small doodle drafts for pages), dolls, inked pages, and cover designs. Something is lost in the translation from the intimate, one-on-one (author artist to reader) experience of books to art excerpted on gallery walls. But in person, you find that Gorey's books - like the Amphigorey collections for which he's best known - don't match the velvety rich blacks and whites of his original drawings. This is especially apparent in his illustrations for Edward Lear's The Dong with a Luminous Nose (1969) of searchlights flashing through a leafless tree or waves crashing against a cliff, the foam curling like claws (or like Hokusai's Great Wave).
Gorey writes and draws with a winking propriety that plays straight man to his mordant gags. His drawings are often stagy — not with the fluidity of his beloved ballet, but with a jerky stiffness that can bring to mind silent films. What's more, he favored captions that operate like poetic film intertitles instead of word balloons.
Some books, like 1963's The West Wing, are all hints, suggestions, and innuendo. It's a wordless tour of a house where handkerchiefs mysteriously float in the air, a naked man stands before a balustrade, a face hovers outside a window, a fissure opens up in a carpet, a shadow of a floating figure darkens the wallpaper.
Others are deliciously macabre adult humor masquerading as edifying children's primers from the midnight shadow of the great Edwardian children's tales - J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan, Beatrix Potter's Peter Rabbit, Kenneth Grahame's TheWind in the Willows. Perhaps Gorey's finest is The Gashlycrumb Tinies (1963). His drawings of children are often underdeveloped (he once said, "I don't know any children"), but here they're just enough to put the joke across. And the alphabet text is a masterpiece: "A is for Amy who fell down the stairs. B is for Basil assaulted by bears. . . . K is for Kate who was struck with an axe. L is for Leo who swallowed some tacks. M is for Maud who was swept out to sea. N is for Neville who died of ennui." Call them life lessons.
"Astatic," organized by Lisa Tung at MassArt, rounds up nine international artists to survey the state of recent animation shorts as art. There are a few examples of Asian pop, like Atsushi Kaga's doodle about a love triangle between evergreen trees, and Takeshi Matura's I, Popeye (2010), which takes advantage of the now expired European copyright for the brawling cartoon sailor (the American copyright remains in force till 2024) to create a melancholy new Popeye short in simple 3D digital modeling. But that's the only trend emerging from this lively selection of works ranging from Jeanne Verdoux's sketch of her to-do list to the Tromarama collective's music video made from dancing buttons and beads.