RIP John Callahan
John Callahan was one of the best cartoonists I’ve ever seen. I’ve got all of his collections and read both his memoirs. ‘Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot’, his memoir in which he described how he became quadriplegic and recovered from alcoholism moved me to both tears and laughter over and over again. His testimony was inspiring to me. He suffered tremendously in life yet still brought laughter to others. He articulately expressed a point of view that saw through lenses of hard won wisdom without a tint of glamour and still he loved the world.
I remember there was one throwaway line in his first memoir that really made Lily laugh. It was in the scene where he was recovering from his accident in the dementia ward of a nursing home. An old lady scrawled with an expressiveness that separates artists from technicians was standing next Callahan in the day room of the home and she was screaming ‘It’s time to take the chickens to pizza church!’ The entire page was a tableaux, but this is the line that really stood out. At the time Lily was working in a nursing home with elderly folks suffering from dementia and a man in his early thirties who had been paralyzed and I think it just really resonated for her. But that’s why he was so good. He knew which parts of the truth to show.
You can’t show the whole truth. People say they want to see it, but they don’t have the time it takes so something always has to be cut away. Lies are as big as they need to be, but truth is often inconvenient in size. When you’re looking for a big truth all you ever seem to come up with are handfuls of small fry, and when you’re seeking an insignificant truth you just might find a whopper. That’s what Callahan’s work was like, every time. I found huge truths in his small scribbles. My condolences to his loved ones.