Books: Satan's Little Acre

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MONSTER RALLY (91 pp.)—Charles Ad-dams—Simon & Schuster ($2.95).

AFTERNOON IN THE ATTIC (135 pp.)—John Kobler—Dodd, Mead ($3.75).

As every child knows—and as readers of The New Yorker are regularly reminded—there lives, in that gloomy, crumbling mansion on the other side of any town, a happy family of unmitigated fiends. They are poor as cemetery mice, but honest as the night is long, and like true soldiers of the great Damnation Army, they darken their corner of town with all the vices that the Devil—with some help from a man named Charles Addams—can conceive.

It is by no means certain, to the thousands of Charles Addams admirers, just who (or what) Addams is. Some hold that he is just a man who has a macabre sense of humor, expressed in horribly funny drawings for The New Yorker. Others wonder uneasily how Addams came to know so much about the inhabitants of Satan's Little Acre, if he himself is not at least a weekend commuter (represented in the drawings, some think, by that disembodied head that sometimes grows on a rotting floorboard and stares at the observer like a fungus with a mind).

The Lighter Side. Two new books answer most of the questions about Addams and his work: Monster Rally, a collection of 91 of the best recent Addams drawings, and Afternoon in the Attic, a selection of congenially morbid little pieces by John Kobler, which is illustrated by Addams. In addition to his essays on such subjects as the Grand Guignol and Madame Tussaud's Waxworks, Kobler includes a biographical sketch of his illustrator.

In the Rally, Addams shows his full cast of professionally baleful bad characters: the gaunt, string-haired young witch who looks somewhat like a vampire on a vegetable diet; her oily-swarthy spouse who is intended by Addams, a loyal Democrat, to bear a distant resemblance to Governor Dewey; their bloated little boy, who resembles something preserved in alcohol, and a handful of useful extras, including a butler edition of Boris Karloff.

Nothing Violent. Some of the Addams humor is relatively mild, e.g., the picnic that is invaded by man-sized ants, the cannibal who murmurs his excuse for not eating: "Oh, I like missionary, all right, but missionary doesn't like me." In some of the others, a deeper flavor of misanthropy seeps through. In one cartoon of this sort, a nurse is simply pushing a pram which is fitted with thick steel bars in front of—whatever is inside. In another, as a man is carried away in the talons of a great bird, his wife runs after him crying, "George! George! Drop the keys!"

Addams himself has no idea how he gets his ideas, or why. He is, to all appearances, an easygoing six-footer with no troubles but how to get up in the morning, and he has never had a day of mental sickness in his 38 years. He lives in a Manhattan apartment, and does nothing more violent than drive his Mercedes-Benz at a breakneck clip.

He was born in steady, suburban Westfield, N.J., attended Colgate and the University of Pennsylvania for a while until he hit on what seemed a better idea: professional art school. One day he sold a decorative sketch to The New Yorker, soon began to sell them cartoons too. Nowadays, reliable as anything, he does 40 to 50 cartoons a year for the magazine.

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