This week: John Callahan: syndicated cartoonist and local figure, and what I read, with notes on some.
WE ARE WORSE OFF WITHOUT JOHN CALLAHAN
The alternative cartoonist John Callahan’s death on Saturday July 24th after a year of complications from surgery was initially lost amongst the comics press’s wall-to-wall coverage of San Diego Comic-Con. I first heard the news Sunday morning through David Chelsea on Facebook; I’m not sure where it first broke. The first news item I found on a Google search that morning was a blog post on the Willamette Week’s website from Saturday night.
There still doesn’t seem to have been much reaction, with San Diego news still filling the major comics sites. Most links I’ve seen have been to newspaper obituaries; I haven’t yet seen a lot of personal remembrances or looks back at his work.
I’m unfortunately not in much of a position to correct that much. My connection to Callahan’s work is more visceral/personal than critical and, despite seeing the man around town on a few occasions, only really met him once.
What commentary on Callahan’s cartoons I’ve read often mentions that, no matter how unshockable a reader was, there were some Callahan cartoons that would offend them. I never found this to be true, and I can only guess that this has a lot to do with the fact that Callahan’s cartoons were among the influences that formed my sense of humor. Though not comics fans by any stretch of the imagination, my parents did have a select few comics lying around the house, among them things like Crumb’s Big Yum Yum Book and several Callahan collections. I particularly remember Digesting the Child Within and Other Cartoons to Live By and I think Do What He Says! He’s Crazy!! being out in the open where an impressionable young kid could find them, and I read them over and over.
Of the limited comics to be found in the house, Callahan’s had a single caption per page, making them an easy read, and the simple illustrations were the most inviting to my young eyes, alongside the work of people like Shel Silverstein. How could these cartoons offend me today when, nearly twenty years ago, they were some of the main things that taught me what was funny (though I’m sure I didn’t understand many of them at the time)?
It’s also important that, while he did cheerfully offend a lot of people, Callahan was very gentle in person and very beloved in his NW Portland neighborhood. The one time I actually met him was a year and a half ago, when Dark Horse editor Shawna Gore and I sat down with him at the Starbucks on NW 23rd to discuss a possible project. I was nervous to talk to him, having been influenced by his work since I was a kid, and not knowing what to expect, given the dark nature of his cartoons, but he turned out to be soft-spoken and friendly. He casually explained when asked about drawing tools that he went straight to ink because he didn’t have a strong enough grip to draw with pencil, and sent me home with a tea-stained copy of an abstract nude he had drawn, a second artistic pursuit he took up late in his life (a third was singer-songwriter, with the release in 2006 of his album Purple Winos in the Rain). A few times during the meeting people came to the table to say hello; he seemed to know everyone.
The next day he called me to thank me for the meeting. His most recent health problems started not long after that, but he continued working, and I saw his cartoons in the Willamette Week fairly recently.
Callahan was a national figure in American comics because his cartoons were syndicated, but as I mentioned above, he was also a fixture of the Portland scene, a familiar sight on NW 23rd. I saw one local bit of coverage mention that the neighborhood wouldn’t feel the same without Callahan around. He was one of the first cartoonists that I learned was from Portland, even before I knew it was a comics town, and the city has definitely lost one of the people that made it special.
A few Callahan links:
READ THIS WEEK
- Action Comics #891 by Paul Cornell, Pete Woods, Cafu & Bit
- Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #4 by Grant Morrison, Georges Jeanty & Walden Wong
- Batwoman: Elegy by Greg Rucka, J.H. Williams III & Dave Stewart
- Black Cat #2 by Jen Van Meter, Javier Pulido, Javier Rodriguez & Matt Hollingsworth
- Fantastic Four #581 by Jonathan Hickman, Neil Edwards, Paul Neary & Paul Mounts
- Final Crisis: Revelations by Greg Rucka, Philip Tan & Jonathan Glapion
- glamourpuss #1–#5 by Dave Sim
Picked up issue #14 with this week’s comics and realized I had bought fourteen issues of glamourpuss without ever actually getting all the way through one of them. I read half of #1 when it came out and always meant to catch up, but never did. As they stacked up, it just seemed more and more daunting to begin reading, but the belief that I eventually would meant I couldn’t stop buying them. So now I’m reading them. They’re weird. More later.
- Justice League: Generation Lost #6 by Judd Winick, Keith Giffen, Fernando Dagnino & Raul Fernandez
Still coming out on paper. Fortunately I didn’t hurt myself on the staples.
- Legion of Super-heroes #2 by Paul Levitz, Yildiray Cinar, Wayne Faucher & Francis Portela
Growing on me. Still referencing stories I either haven’t read or couldn’t get through, but also really starting to move forward. Issue #3’s already out, so I’ll have to grab it Wednesday.
- Pixu: The Mark of Evil by Gabriel Bá, Becky Cloonan, Vasilis Lolos & Fábio Moon
I met Fábio at work this week. He said he was going to stab me. Artists, amiright?
- RASL #8 by Jeff Smith
- Troublemaker Book 1 by Janet Evanovich, Alex Evanovich & Joëlle Jones
Saw Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World on July 28, but I am already late, so it will have to wait until next week.
Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot © John Callahan. glamourpuss © Dave Sim.
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