delayed obit: john callahan

Ah, the dangers of taking a break from the news and Facebook. I missed the passing of John Callahan, now more than two weeks ago, and only found out inadvertently as we were throwing away an bit of old newspaper Allan picked up somewhere.

Callahan, as he was always known, was a cartoonist whose irreverent, sometimes morbid humour laughed at the world of disability, and at the public's response to disability. He was intimately familiar with that world, having lived as quadriplegic since the age of 21. Callahan was an alcoholic, and an adoptee, and I think he was deeply compassionate in a way that many people could not understand.

I constantly think of the line that he used for the title of his autobiography: "Don't worry, he won't get far on foot." His humour wasn't the pablum of "laughter is the best medicine," nor was it the trite self-deprecation of identity-standup. He just wasn't afraid to find humour in everything, and he didn't think he needed permission to laugh at anything.

The Callahan website is here. Here's some of the New York Times obit.
“This is John, I’m a little too depressed to take your call today,” the message on his answering machine said. “Please leave your message at the gunshot.”

Looking askance at the culture of confession and self-help fostered by the likes of Oprah Winfrey and Geraldo Rivera, he was not inclined in his work to be outwardly sympathetic to the afflicted or to respect the boundaries of racial and ethnic stereotyping. His cartoons were often polarizing: some found them outrageously funny, others outrageously offensive.

There was the drawing of a restaurant, the Anorexic Cafe, with a sign in the window saying, “Now Closed 24 Hours a Day.” There was one showing a group of confused-looking square dancers unable to respond to the caller’s instruction to “return to the girl that you just left,” with a headline reading, “The Alzheimer Hoedown.”

There was the drawing of a blind black man begging in the street, wearing a sign that read: “Please help me. I am blind and black, but not musical.” In another, a sheriff’s posse on horseback surrounds an empty wheelchair. The caption gave him the title of his 1990 autobiography: “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot.”

And there was the drawing of an aerobics class for quadriplegics, with the instructor saying, “O.K., let’s get those eyeballs moving.”

I never met Callahan in person, but I will really miss him.

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