John Callahan, the quadriplegic, provocative cartoonist who had the talent and wit to poke holes in just about everything and everybody, died at the age of 59 in Portland, Ore. Bark was lucky to showcase his work, and interviewed him in our Spring 2000 issue. We called him “the funniest men alive,” and Matt Groening, a fan and friend of Callahan, added that he was “rude, shocking, depraved and tasteless.” Callahan told us that he had a “perverse quality” because he “loved to watch people get upset,” and added that it was “fun to push buttons. Some people don’t have an appetite for it but I do.”
He was paralyzed by an auto accident in 1972, and drew his cartoons by holding a pen in his right hand and steadying it with his left. He drew many comics with very funny observations of dogs and cats, and when we talked with him, sadly, his beloved Dachshund, Snickers had just died. Here is an excerpt from that interview, with a few samples of his work:
Callahan: Snickers always hung around, she was like Velcro to me. I had quite a relationship, like a partner with this dog; she was a partner in the household, in antics. She was part of the daily rituals of the life around here. I’d wake up and the dog would be asleep on my ankles, she always slept with her little face across my legs. The wiener dog was so small, she looked like a little baguette with legs. Stanley [my giant orange cat] would slap her around a little. She was afraid of the cat but she was tough too. She could back Rottweilers out of the yard. She was very tough but she was afraid of a leaf that would blow by—she’d whimper and run away from a leaf! I, of course, spoiled the dog by feeding her little pieces of whatever I was eating. I can’t believe that people feed their dog kibble. It’s like granola or something.
Bark: So Snickers ate well?
Callahan: Yes … but there was always one ritual that she had—what we called the “first bark of the day.” She would climb up on the back of the sofa and look out the window into the main street and she would bark, bark at everybody who walked by. She’d take lunch breaks though. My dog was the only dog I’ve ever known who was into gratuitous barking. She’d bark more intensely when another dog walked by—especially a large dog. I never understood her logic. She was much bigger than—oh, something like an iguana. I’d think, “Why do you want to draw attention to the fact that you’re no bigger than rodent? To have a dog notice you and then maybe break through the window and kill you?” She would bark so hard that her feet would leave the couch.
But if I was tired or ill or wanted to sleep in, she could curtail her barking so I could sleep. That’s pretty sensitive.
Bark: She was obviously an inspiration for your work.
Callahan: She really was. I drew many cartoons with wiener dogs—about those little things you have with a dog. Snickers would be walking around the house and I’d look up from my work. She’s look at me expectantly and I’d give her a little nod and she would sort of give a little nod back and walk by. I’d think to myself: I’m communicating with a dog!” You know, there’s a certain partnership. It’s amazing to me.