Vietnam veteran, and cartoonist who drew the first cartoon to appear in 'The New Yorker' after 9/11 attack
Published 12/12/2010 | 05:00
Leo Cullum, who died on October 23 aged 68, drew cartoons for The New Yorker and was the first to break the magazine's self-imposed embargo on cartoons in the wake of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre.
The issue of September 17, 2001, was the first to omit all cartoons since 1946, when they resumed after the cataclysm of Hiroshima. "In the months after the World Trade Centre," noted Rebecca Mead, a British-born staff writer on The New Yorker, "the cartoons were where you could look for what it was OK to say."
Cullum's cartoon after 9/11 showed a woman in a bar observing to a man clad in hideously loud checks: "I thought I'd never laugh again. Then I saw your jacket."
Leo Aloysius Cullum was born on January 11, 1942, in Newark, New Jersey, and graduated from college in 1963. Having served in Vietnam, completing more than 200 missions as a pilot in the US Marine Corps, he joined TWA in the late Sixties and flew commercial airliners on intercontinental routes for 30 years.
Leo Cullum started producing his cartoons during stopovers (never, he insisted reassuringly, during a flight), learning techniques from instructional books and studying the work of professional cartoonists. It had always been his ambition to be published in The New Yorker, but his early efforts were turned down. While his drawings were rejected, however, his humour was not, and the magazine passed some of his ideas to Charles Addams for illustration. The first of these appeared in print in 1975.
Addams encouraged Cullum to persevere, and he made his first sale to the magazine Air Line Pilot. Other publications, including Argosy and Saturday Review, also took his material.
His first successful submission to The New Yorker was published in January 1977, and, for the next 33 years, Cullum contributed more than 800 cartoons to the magazine, featuring images of businessmen in sombreros, showgirls in courtrooms and a men-agerie of anthropomorphic animals -- like the elephant on the psychiatrist's couch who complains: "I'm right there in the room, and no one even acknowledges me."
His distinctive drawings were often used for the magazine's caption contest, in which readers are invited to fill the vacant caption to a cartoon. The New Yorker's cartoon editor, Robert Mankoff, called him "one of the most popular" cartoonists at the magazine during the Eighties and Nineties, and "one of the most consistently funny cartoonists we ever had".
One of Cullum's most popular cartoons features a man lecturing a cat alongside a litter tray, with the caption "Never, ever, think outside the box." His last cartoon appeared in the issue of the week he died.
Cullum's published books included collections about doctors (Suture Self) and birds (Tequila Mockingbird), with others about cats, dogs and business people.
Leo Cullum, who was diagnosed with cancer five years ago, is survived by his wife, Kathy, and their two daughters.