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John Callahan

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John Callahan
John Callahan

John Callahan is a cartoonist born in Portland, Oregon in 1961. He was paralyzed on July 22, 1972 when he was 21 from a drinking and driving accident when crashed into a utility pole at 90 mph in Buena Park, California. After the crash that had left him as a quadriplegic, he moved back to Portland, Oregon to live in a government- subsidized apartment.

Callahan began to draw by clutching a pen between both his hands. His cartoons touched on topics from abortion, feminists, antidepressants, and other seemingly taboo topics.

In 1985, he sold his cartoons, or “gags” as he referred, to Penthouse and following that, The New Yorker, Harper’s and many other syndications.


Cartoons

As well as being a syndicated cartoonist, John Callahan collected and published many books such as “Get Down!! Dog Cartoons” , “Will the Real John Callahan Please Stand Up”, “Digesting the Child Within” and “Freaks of Nature”. Gary Larson, creator of “The Far Side” said “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."

In one such case, Miami Herald withdrew 550,000 copies of the Sunday magazine at a cost of almost $50,000. The cartoon featured Martin Luther King Jr. as a 13 year old boy standing next to the bed with a puddle, telling his mother “I had a dream”. However, Callahan expressed that felt no bitterness towards the pulling of his cartoon, but was puzzled. "They hired me for my irreverence," he said. "I guess it's OK to be irreverent in certain areas but not in others."

Not surprisingly, Callahan gets a collection of letters from people who are offended or did “get” his jokes about people with disabilities, especially in the book “Will the Real John Callahan Please Stand Up”. However, there is also a large community that supports and praises his humor. Because Callahan’s work pokes fun at topics such as disability, it helps other people with disabilities come to terms with themselves. Joseph P. Shapiro said in his book “No Pity” that the Callahan’s work helps increase “bonding among disabled people” and contribute to a rise in disability culture.


Television

Pelswick Eggert
Pelswick Eggert

In 2000, Nickelodeon hosted an animated series “Pelswick” created by John Callahan that structured around the life of a teenage boy who uses a wheelchair. The show emphasizes how he lived a normal live, go through the average struggles of a teenager: school, friends, girls, and family.

Robin Williams, a friend of Callahan bought the film rights to “Don’t worry, Be Won’t Get Far on Foot”, and stated that he would be starring in the feature sometime in the future.


References

  • Diane De La Paz. “A picture of irreverance ; Quadriplegic cartoonist John Callahan continues his proud tradition of unapologetic social commentary; [South Sound Edition]”. The News Tribune. Tacoma, Wash.: Sep 5, 2004. pg. D.01
  • “A cartoon call-back”, Editor & Publisher; 5/13/95, Vol. 128 Issue 19, p41