A Call for Help for a World-Famous Cartoonist, Formerly of Sag Harbor



“I thought everybody in the world loves Gahan Wilson,” said his step-son, filmmaker Paul Winters, in a phone interview. “So why not get some help for him?”

Mr. Winters set up a GoFundMe page for his step-father on March 3 that had raised almost $46,000 by Monday afternoon, just a week after it was created. The goal is to raise $100,000.

Nancy Winters and Gahan Wilson in 1970 with one of Gahan’s characters. Courtesy Paul Winters

A 2013 documentary film about Mr. Wilson, “Born Dead, Still Weird,” captured The New Yorker’sacceptance in 2006 of a drawing of his that became the July 31 cover that year. It was a bug’s-eye view from above the trees of a mother, father and two kids stepping onto a hilly meadow with picnic baskets, framed from above by a menacing array of insects, a grotesque and gigantic wasp, hornet, mosquito and fly.

“The really great ones develop a private language, a world that’s creepy; it’s strange. But so is the world of Bram Stoker and Marry Shelley,” said New Yorkereditor David Remnick in the film. That “whole world,” he added, “is a huge dimension of artistry that is beyond the average, beyond the normal.”

Although his wife, the writer Nancy Winters, says in the film that she and Mr. Wilson spent 24 years side-by-side after their marriage in 1966 — living in New York; Sharon, Connecticut, and Key West — she went off to live in London for much of the 20 to 25 years that he kept a place in Sag Harbor, renting space in houses to serve as his studio.

“You don’t need to see each other every day,” she said in the film, “after you’ve been side-by-side for so long.”

She came back to stay with him a few years ago to help him organize and sell his papers. They never entertained but they had a circle of friends here who watched out for them, including plumber Terry Sullivan and his wife Jeanelle Myers and Stacy Dermont and her husband Dan Koontz.

A cartoon Gahan Wilson drew for Terry Sullivan of Sag Harbor.

Mr. Sullivan tells the story of meeting Mr. Wilson for the first time at a celebration in Sag Harbor of Barack Obama’s presidency in 2008 at which Mr. Sullivan — who is known as the singing plumber — sang “We Shall Overcome.” When Mr. Wilson complimented him on his performance, Mr. Sullivan’s eyebrows went vertical. “You’re Gahan Wilson!” he said, genuflecting before his hero.

Mr. Wilson dashed off a cartoon for him of two toilets that were also delighted with his singing. Mr. Wilson also signed a copy of his own drawing from Playboyin 1966 that shows “a monstrous soldier in a devastated landscape,” as The New York Timesdescribed it in a review, over the caption, “I think I won.”

Ms. Dermont recalls finding a trove of cartons full of cookbooks left as a giveaway on the sidewalk outside their house. The books were stuffed with Wilson-Winters ephemera, including original cartoons and a Christmas card from Hugh Hefner to Gahan. When she spoke to him about it, he told her to keep it all.

“Gahan really liked Sag Harbor,” his last Sag Harbor landlord, Star Black, said, “because he could walk anywhere. He didn’t have a car.”

About two years ago, Nancy and Gahan both moved to her son Paul’s place in Rio Verde, Arizona, to be with Paul, Paul’s wife Patty and their daughter. Mr. Winters, 64, is a filmmaker, screenwriter and actor.

Nancy, who was also suffering from memory loss, died just last week.

“It’s sad for all of us, the whole family,” Mr. White said in a video on the GoFundMe page he set up for his step-father. “It’s especially heartbreaking for him because he’s in deep, deep dementia and she was his guide in the world. Without her, he’s completely lost.”

Mr. Winters will soon be taking Mr. Wilson with the family to a ranch they have bought in Sante Fe, New Mexico, where Gahan will stay part of the week. The rest of the time, he will live in an expensive full-time “memory” care unit, which can easily cost $4,000 a month, Mr. Winters said, adding that’s not a bill he can afford for long.

He can’t live full-time with the family because he is prone to wondering off into the desert, Mr. Winters said.

“I thought everybody in the world loves Gahan Wilson so why not get some help for him,” he said. “The GoFundMe page is just a way to get a little help. Let’s let him go out in style.”

Mr. Winters said Gahan still draws every day but “I think he’s pretty much done.” His work has gotten “more primitive” and has “kind of shrunken,” he said. The New Yorker, he added, has stopped buying his cartoons.

“He’s outlived his market,” Mr. Winters said.

“I would never leave him” he added, but “he doesn’t know who I am now. I asked him one day if he remembered me. ‘You know,’ Gahan said, ‘you look like you’re very important to me.’”

To make a donation, go to www.gofundme.com/gahan-wilson-team-effort.