One cartoon displays an aerobics instructor telling quadriplegic exercisers, "O.K., lets get those eyeballs moving." Another shows a man sitting at a bar with two prosthetic hooks for hands as the bartender tells him, "Sorry, Mike, but you can't hold your liquor." And still another shows the storefront of "The Anorexic Cafe," with a sign in the window: "Now Closed 24 hours a day!!!"
John Callahan, 59, the acerbic cartoonist responsible for those irreverent-to-polarizing drawings, died Saturday at a hospital in Portland, Ore. He was an alcoholic and a quadriplegic, and his work attracted a devoted following and many detractors, who found it shocking and tasteless. That was the point.
"I'm happiest when I'm offensive. I have a desire to tear people in half," he told the Miami Herald in 1989. "I want to move people out of the suburbs of their mind. I want them to suffer, to feel something real. I have a lot of anger.."
In his 27 years of cartooning, Callahan drew praise from Simpsons creator Matt Groening, who said Callahan's works were "rude" and "depraved" - in short, Groening said, "all the adjectives that cartoonists crave to hear." When Callahan's artwork appeared in print, newspapers inevitably received buckets of hate mail and dozens of phone calls from angry advertisers threatening to pull out.
In his 30s - nearly a decade after his accident - Callahan rediscovered his talents as a cartoonist while doodling in his English classes at Portland State University. Holding a pen between his hands, as if in prayer, he bent over sheets over paper to produce the signature scraggly lines of his cartoons.
He began to churn out nearly 10 cartoons a week for local alternative papers and was eventually syndicated in the mid-1980s with the help of an agent. At his peak, Callahan's cartoons appeared in nearly 300 publications worldwide, including Penthouse and Esquire.
One of Callahan's cartoons shows headless bodies streaming out of a restaurant with blood spurting from their severed necks. The restaurant is named, "The Low Ceiling-Fan Cafe." Another cartoon is called "A.A. in L.A.," and has a man standing at a lectern saying: "My name is Mort and I represent Chuck who's an alcoholic." Callahan once submitted a lewd cartoon about a teenage Martin Luther King Jr. to the Miami Herald that was instantly rejected.
But during production, a worker mistakenly inserted the cartoon for publication, and the Herald ended up having to destroy 500,000 copies.
Callahan's artwork was forever banned from the paper.