John Callahan (cartoonist)

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John Michael Callahan (February 5, 1951 – July 24, 2010) was a cartoonist, artist, and musician in Portland, Oregon, noted for dealing with macabre subjects and physical disabilities.

Accident and career[edit]

Callahan became a quadriplegic in an auto accident at 21,[1][2] the accident happened in Callahan's car after a day of drinking; his car was being driven by a man with whom he was bar hopping.

Following his accident, he became a cartoonist, drawing by clutching a pen between both hands, his visual artistic style was simple and often rough, although still legible. It has been likened to that of William Steig, James Thurber, Richard Condie, and Ben Wicks.

Callahan's cartoons dealt with subjects often considered taboo, his black humor may be exemplified by the title of his "quasi-memoir," Will the Real John Callahan Please Stand Up?. The subject matter and treatment of his cartoons shares something with the work of Charles Addams, Gahan Wilson, and especially Charles Rodrigues, although it is much more aggressive than even the Playboy cartoons by these cartoonists.

From 1983 until his death 27 years later, Callahan's work appeared in the Portland newspaper Willamette Week, the controversial nature of his cartoons occasionally led to boycotts and protests against the paper.

Callahan scoffed at the reactions of critics who labeled his work politically incorrect, while he delighted in the positive reactions he received from fans with disabilities. "My only compass for whether I’ve gone too far is the reaction I get from people in wheelchairs, or with hooks for hands." Callahan said. "Like me, they are fed up with people who presume to speak for the disabled. All the pity and the patronizing. That’s what is truly detestable."[3]

Two animated cartoon series have been based on Callahan's cartoons: Pelswick, a children's show on Nickelodeon; and Quads, a Canadian-Australian co-production, which retains the violence, joie de vivre, and political incorrectness of his cartoons.

Friends said Callahan realized that his cartooning was a form of emotional ventilation, which led to him pursuing a master's degree in counseling at Portland State University to understand the machinations. However, his deteriorating health prevented him from finishing his first term.[4]

In 2005, Dutch film maker Simone de Vries made a documentary on Callahan, 'Raak me waar ik voelen kan' ('Touch me where I can feel').[5]

Callahan died on July 24, 2010, following surgery for chronic bed sores,[6] his brother stated the causes of his death were complications of quadriplegia and respiratory problems.[2]

A biographical movie, Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot starring Joaquin Phoenix, Jack Black and Jonah Hill and directed by Gus van Sant, was released in 2018.[7]

Other careers[edit]

Graphic art[edit]

John Callahan worked on nudes and a portrait project, shown in several galleries throughout its progression.


Callahan was also a songwriter, he released a CD, Purple Winos in the Rain, in 2006.[8] He wrote and composed his own lyrics and sang and played harmonica and ukulele, the record was released on BoneClone Records and produced by blues musician Terry Robb, with a special cameo appearance by Tom Waits. Callahan personally illustrated the album cover.[9]

The Independent of London calls his songs "Beautiful, but dark." He wrote all the music and lyrics himself and was backed up by many notable musicians. A Dutch film crew recorded the studio sessions in which Callahan played a simplified piano version of "Roll Away The Day."

Personal life[edit]

John Callahan was adopted as an infant and grew up in The Dalles, 80 miles east of Portland, with five siblings, he attended a Roman Catholic high school.[10] At age 8, he was molested by a female teacher,[11] he began drinking at the age of twelve. "I used the alcohol to hide the pain of the abuse," Callahan has said. After the car accident that caused his spinal cord injury, he went through extensive rehabilitation, at the age of 27, he gave up drinking alcohol. He made his home in Portland, Oregon.[12]


  1. ^ Chris Lydgate (March 9, 2005). "Hell on Wheels". Willamette Week. Retrieved 2009-06-24. 
  2. ^ a b Bruce Weber (July 28, 2010). "John Callahan, Cartoonist, Dies at 59". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-08-02. 
  3. ^ Timothy Egan (June 7, 1992). "Defiantly Incorrect". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-08-02. 
  4. ^ Dungca, Nicole; and Molly Hottle, "Cartoonist kept humor to the end", The Oregonian, 26 July 2010, p. B6.
  5. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-05-16. Retrieved 2011-05-07. 
  6. ^ Dennis McLellan (July 29, 2010). "John Callahan dies at 59; politically incorrect cartoonist was a quadriplegic". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-07-29. 
  7. ^ Bruce Fretts (January 16, 2018). "New Trailer: 'Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot'". New York Times. Retrieved January 17, 2018. 
  8. ^ "Purple Winos in the Rain - John Callahan - Songs, Reviews, Credits - AllMusic". AllMusic. 
  9. ^ "Purple Winos in the Rain - John Callahan - Credits - AllMusic". AllMusic. 
  10. ^ Weber, Bruce (July 28, 2010). "John Callahan, Cartoonist, Dies at 59". New York Times. Retrieved April 7, 2018. open access publication – free to read
  11. ^ Lori A. Wood (November 24, 2004). "John Callahan: Back to the Drawing Board!". Action online. United Spinal Association. Archived from the original on January 10, 2008. Retrieved 2008-05-19. 
  12. ^ Beth Slovic (December 27, 2006). "Tales From The Crip". Willamette Week. Archived from the original on October 16, 2008. Retrieved May 5, 2008. 

External links[edit]