In a town of gifted animators and graphic novelists and even the cartooning Simpsons daddy of ’em all, Matt Groening, John Callahan has long held a special place: the edgiest of the edgy, the guy from way out there, the quadriplegic artist (we mention this because that fact is so important to the formation of his black comic universe) who cut through all the politically correct crap and aimed with devastating acuity at the little lies and evasions of everyday life. His cartoons were crude and embarrassing and dug deep down into the fatuous mush of public and private politeness, down to where the demons live. For all that, people who knew him well say he was a sweet and lovely guy.
John died on Friday, July 24, 2010, taking his familiar motorized wheelchair off of Portland’s streets and silencing his singular voice. He seemed to us a necessary antidote to Portland smugness (we ARE the center of the universe, are we not?), and his presence among us ironically added to our notion of self-worth: John Callahan is one of us! Rest in peace, John, if peace, finally, is what you wish for. Or keep fighting the metaphysical good fight.
Here is Callahan’s Web site.
Addendum, Monday, July 26: Here is Jim Redden’s report from the Portland Tribune, which includes an appreciation by David Milholland, who published Callahan’s cartoons in the old Clinton St. Quarterly.
And you can post your own reminiscences and comments on a memorial Web site here.