Leo Cullum: 1942 -2010
Ink Spill has learned the sad news that Leo Cullum has died. Leo's work first appeared in The New Yorker January 3, 1977 ( his most recent drawing appeared in the issue of October 25, 2010). In Leo's very first New Yorker cartoon a man in a bath robe sits at a kitchen counter that is crowded with live chickens -- there's even a chicken on the man's head. The caption: "No, you're not disturbing me, Herb. I'm up with the chickens this morning." You could say that Leo came out of the box swinging, for he stayed true to this wacky sensibility for his thirty-three years at The New Yorker, contributing over eight hundred drawings to the magazine.
The New Yorker cartoon world was in a period of transition when Leo's work began to appear in its pages. Although there had always been a number of cartoonists who wrote their own captions, The New Yorker had from its very beginnings a system in place of gag writers providing cartoonists with ideas. This new wave of cartoonists -- including Jack Ziegler, Roz Chast and the current Cartoon Editor, Bob Mankoff -- eschewed the gag writer arrangement, preferring to write their own. Citing Don Martin as an early influence, Leo fit right in with the new cartoonists, many of them weaned on Mad and comic books. His subject matter roamed far and wide, but if you take a close look at his New Yorker work you'll notice he seemed to favor moments captured at the local bar, or at the office.
In person, Leo was unfailingly upbeat and polite to the core -- a gentleman cartoonist. Cartoonists knew Leo was different than most: he had a "real" job -- he was a commercial pilot for thirty-four years. He worked on his cartoons between flights and on his days off ( when I first met Leo, his already wide smile grew wider when he learned that my wife and I lived in Rhinebeck, New York, less than ten minutes from the Rhinebeck Aerodrome, a fifty-year old ongoing museum dedicated to antique aircraft).
One of Leo's cartoons -- one of his very best -- appeared immediately post 9/11 in the October 1, 2001 issue of The New Yorker -- a time when when most of us couldn't laugh or didn't know if we should. In Leo's cartoon, a man wearing an unattractive patchwork jacket sits next to a woman. The woman says to the man, "I thought I'd never laugh again. Then I saw your jacket." This was a particularly generous gift from Leo, but of course there were many more before that, and plenty more to come.
Here's a link to The New Yorker's Cartoon Bank blog, posted December 18, 2009, "Meet the Cartoonist: Leo Cullum":blog.cartoonbank.com/2009/12/18/leo-cullum-interview/#more-616
Another link -- this one to a brief profile from The Holy Cross Magazine ( published by Leo's Alma mater, The College of the Holy Cross):www.holycross.edu/departments/publicaffairs/hcm/summer06/features/feature1.html
To see all of Leo's New Yorker work go to cartoonbank.com, then enter "Leo Cullum" in the search box.
The New York Times has posted an obit for Leo @ newyorktimes.com, The print edition appears in today's ( Oct 26, 2010) paper.
Both The New Yorker's website ( newyorker.com) and The New Yorker's Cartoon Bank (cartoonbank.com) website have posted tributes to Leo and his work. To find the Cartoon Bank's post, scroll to the very bottom of their home page -- look for "our blog" and click on it.