Profiles

Alumni Profile #2 Winter, 2015:                                                 John Callahan,  TDHS Class of 1969

What can you say about a controversial cartoonist, musician, alcoholic, disabled writer who was decidedly not politically correct?   

 Joseph Adams

How about courageous, honest, irreverent and funny.  Sometimes not funny ‘ha ha’ either.   Sometimes funny uncomfortable.  He’s been called offensive, rude and disrespectful.  He’s also been called ground breaking, creative and genius.  No matter what you think about John Callahan, you are bound to have an opinion.   The man just made it hard to be neutral.

 

John was born in Portland, Oregon on February 5, 1951, and was adopted.   He graduated from TDHS in 1969.  When he was just 21, was injured in a car accident and became a quadriplegic. But life takes odd turns:  Finding himself able to grip a pen with both hands, he found a dark humor in his life, and with rough, almost crude drawings, captured with biting honesty, the life of the disabled.  

 

He lived in Portland, Oregon, and, for 27 years, his work appeared in the Willamette Week and was nationally syndicated, appearing in newspapers all over the country.   His controversial subjects led to protests against the Willamette Week, but he kept drawing, and they kept publishing. Timothy Egan wrote about Callahan in the New York Times in 1992.   He quotes Callahan:  “My only compass for whether I’ve gone too far is the reaction I get from people in wheel chairs, or with hooks for hands,” Callahan said. “Like me, they are fed up with people who presume to speak for the disabled.” All the pity and the patronizing, that’s what is truly detestable.” 

 

Besides his cartoons, he wrote many books, including,

  • Digesting the Child Within and Other Cartoons to Live By
  • Do Not Disturb Any Further
  • Do What He Says! He's Crazy!!!
  • Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot: The Autobiography of a Dangerous Man
  • I Think I was an Alcoholic
  • Will the Real John Callahan Please Stand Up? Lurid Revelations, Shocking Rejections, Irate Letters, With an Introduction by Robin Williams

And if all that weren’t enough, he wrote music, released a CD, painted nudes and portraits, showed his work in galleries, was the subject of a Dutch documentary entitled “Touch me someplace I can feel”, and two television cartoon series were based on his works, one sanitized for Nickelodeon, and one, “Quads”,  created by an Australian/Canadian consortium,  was written with the full bite of his wit.  

 

John realized that his cartoons, writing and music were a form of therapy for himself, and thought he could help others.   He began to pursue a Master’s Degree in counseling, but became ill and was not able to complete it.  John died on July 24, 2010.

 

To get a full look at his unique perspective, go to his website:  www.callahanonline.com. Thanks to the internet, and his robust body of work, he lives on.    RIP, John.

 

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