John Callahan, a quadriplegic cartoonist known for his edgy writing style and dark humor, died July 24th. He was 59 and lived in Portland, Oregon.
Callahan’s cartoons were widely published in newspapers and magazines. His work has been chronicled in 12 books since 1990, published by Ballantine Books, Quill, Vintage Books and William Morrow & Company.
There are two animated cartoons based on Callahan’s work, Pelswick, which aired on Nickelodeon, and Quads.
Callahan published a memoir called Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot, telling the story of how he became a quadriplegic from a car accident in 1992 that severed his spine, and how he became a writer and cartoonist.
His books also include Will the Real John Callahan Please Stand Up?, What Kind of a God Would Allow a Thing Like This to Happen?!! and The King of Things and the Cranberry Clown.
His topics included death, disability, celebrities and fame, recovering from alcoholism, and psychotherapy.
Callahan’s website contains a warning for the book The Best of Callahan that reads, “This book is not for the timid, the easily offended, the politically correct, or your grandparents. It’s for people who like their humor dark . . . about issues Mom and Dad told us were impolite to talk about in public.”
Fellow authors have praised his work. "There are two basic reasons I enjoy Callahan's work so much: first, I think his cartoons are just plain funny; second, he makes my own work seem normal,” said Gary Larson, creator of The Far Side, when Callahan released Get Down!! Dog Cartoons.
"John Callahan is one of the most important anti-PC voices we have in the country,” said Camille Paglia, author of Vamps and Tramps, according to Callahan’s website.
Callahan pushed boundaries, and some readers perceived his work as politically incorrect or offensive. Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons, acknowledged this criticism when he said on Callahan’s website, "Rude, shocking, depraved, tasteless - Callahan gets called all the adjectives cartoonists crave to hear."
Callahan holds a bachelor’s degree from Portland State University and was in the process of enrolling for a master’s program in counseling when he passed away. The cause of death was complications of quadriplegia and respiratory problems.
Callahan is survived by his mother, Rosemary, his brothers, Tom, Kevin and Richard, and his sisters, Mary Callahan and Teri Duffy.
This article was published in the September 2010 issue of Able News.