The Addams Family: An Evilution

Review by KC Carlson

It’s always wonderful to see a new Chas. Addams collection. It’s even better this time around to have one specifically themed and somewhat annotated. The Addams Family: An Evilution is a 224-page hardcover collection and history of the popular creepy family first created by Addams over a long period of gestation beginning in 1938, primarily in the pages of The New Yorker magazine.

The Addams Family: An Evilution cover
The Addams Family: An Evilution
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The focus here is the Addams Family, with chapters spotlighting each member. Most begin with a short description of the the background and personalities of each character written by Addams himself. These come from materials first prepared upon request from the producers of the 1964 TV series based on Addams’ creations. They had very little detail to work with while adapting the characters from print cartoons to flesh and blood (maybe) TV characters. In some instances, those materials were the first time the character’s name had ever appeared!

Following Addams’ notes, there is a short essay for each character, written by the Director of the Tee and Charles Addams Foundation, Kevin Miserocchi. Included is fascinating detail regarding the first appearances of each of the characters. The family did not first appear all at once, and it was many years before Addams’ fans began to realize that they were reading the exploits of a collection of characters. At first, they just appeared as one-shot bit-players of Addams’ fertile imagination, and occasionally, they weren’t immediately recognizable. (For example, Lurch first appears bearded, vaguely feral, and nondescript.)

Miserocchi’s essays also describe the differences in the characters among the original cartoons, the TV series, and the two feature films — Thing is vastly different between the cartoons and the other media — as well as the relationships between the characters. The TV show, for instance, switches Grandmama from being Gomez’ mother to Morticia’s. And no one is really sure of Fester’s exact relationship to the family. Oddly, when Addams drew himself in cartoon form, he often drew a Fester-like character, even though he looked nothing like Fester in life.

Of course, the meat of each chapter is the cartoons themselves, carefully organized to spotlight each character (and including chapters for the whole family, the Addams’ house itself, and one for other relatives and family friends). There are over 200 cartoons in the book, and about 50 of them have never been published. I believe that many of these unpublished cartoons are sketch ideas that Addams originally prepared to pitch to The New Yorker and were rejected for one reason or another. As a former editor, I’m loathe to second-guess another, but I found many of these “reject” cartoons gut-bustingly funny.

Also included are the family’s appearances from the covers (and interiors) of previous Addams cartoon collections (sadly long out-of-print, and now collectors items) as well as other appearances. Amazingly, The New Yorker dropped Addams Family cartoons from their magazine in 1964 after the TV show debuted (although they continued to buy other Addams cartoons). The family later returned to the magazine in the mid-1980s, making a few appearances before Addams’ death in 1988.

Book geeks like me will also appreciate the index of illustrations (with publication dates) and the bibliography of Addams cartoon collections.

The Addams Family were probably my first cartoon friends, long before I discovered Superman, Spider-Man, or even Uncle Scrooge. My mom had a New Yorker subscription for years, and I always ended up with the hardcover collections of New Yorker cartoons and Addams collections that she frequently bought. The funny thing was, I was reading them at such a young age, I never really thought of them as being odd. They seemed just like the family next door. Sure, they were just a little unusual… and they didn’t like Christmas carolers. But they were a family that stuck together, despite the occasional attempts to kill one another. There’s something to be said for that.

I learned a lot about subtlety from reading Chas. Addams cartoons. With some of his very best cartoons, it took a moment or two to discover the joke — sometimes literally, as he would often distract you from the punchline by making your eye look elsewhere, often at something mundane. You can find sub-jokes elsewhere in his cartoons — a secondary gag thrown in just for fun, or possibly to just amuse himself. One of the minor Addams Family members of the cartoon — The Thing — was someone you literally had to search for in the group-shots. He was usually hiding in the corner or looking down on the family from a balcony. In one cartoon, he is hiding in the snow. He preceded Where’s Waldo? by several decades.

Published on the eve of the Addams Family’s revival as a Broadway musical, The Addams Family: An Evilution is a lovely — and loving — family portrait of our most long-lasting and favorite dysfunctional family and their slightly off-kilter creator.

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