John Callahan is an American cartoonist. Gary Larson of Far Side fame says “…he makes my own work look normal.”
Born in 1951 in Portland, Oregon in the USA, John Callahan is illegitimate and was given up for adoption. The couple who adopted him believed they could not have children – however within six months his adoptive mother was pregnant with the first of five natural Callahans.
Callahan was a “difficult” child – unable to come to terms with his adoptive status, with the fact that his birth mother had abandoned him, with his looks and his artistic side. He discovered alcohol early in his high school years, and quickly became alcoholic and prone to bouts of depression.
When he was 21, Callahan was left a quadriplegic after a car in which he was a passenger hit a pole at 90 mph. Both he and the driver were drunk – the driver escaped with minimal injuries, Callahan had a neatly severed spine between the 5th and 6th vertebrae – one vertebra away from almost certain death.
Callahan’s alcoholism continued until he joined Alcoholics Anonymous. In therapy classes he began to draw once more – he remained a talented artist despite his partial loss of control in his arms. He gradually fought the welfare system in order to be allowed to publish his cartoons, and today his cartoons are published in varying newspapers including the Seattle Times, the San Francisco Chronicle and the Miami Herald. One of his first and more lucrative contracts was with Penthouse Magazine, who still run his cartoons.
Callahan’s subjects are varied, and rarely politically correct. He satirizes disability, deformity, alcoholism, racial issues….basically, if it’ll offend someone, Callahan’s probably drawn a cartoon about it. This tends to get him booted from newspapers: many publications dropped his work after a storm of complaints about a cartoon featuring the Ku Klux Klan. Callahan said: “Very shortly I was to be identified as a sexist, racist, agist, fascist, communist – in fact, I’m merely cartoonist”.
Various collections have been made of Callahan’s work, he has published an autobiography entitled “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot”, and, most recently, his work has become the inspiration for the off-beat animated cartoon “Quads”.
To quote P. J. O’Rourke – “When people laugh like hell and then say ‘That’s not funny,’ you can be sure they’re talking about John Callahan.”
Acknowledgements: “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot”: John Callahan, 1989, Morrow Publications, and “Do Not Disturb Any Further”: John Callahan, 1990.