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Michael Leunig (born 2 June 1945), often referred to as Leunig, is an Australian cartoonist. His best known works include The Adventures of Vasco Pyjama and the Curly Flats series. He was declared an Australian Living Treasure by the National Trust of Australia in 1999.

Michael Leunig speaks at a demonstration in Melbourne against Israel's military action in Gaza, 2009

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Biography

Leunig, a fifth generation Australian, [1] was born in East Melbourne, Victoria, grew up in the Melbourne suburb of Footscray and went to Maribyrnong High School before entering an arts degree at Monash University. His first cartoons appeared in the Monash University student newspaper, Lot's Wife, in the late 1960s. He was conscripted in the Vietnam War call-up, but he registered as a conscientious objector; in the event he was rejected on health grounds when it was revealed that he was deaf in one ear. [2]

After university Leunig enrolled at the Swinburne Film and Television School and then began his cartoon career. He has noted that he was at first interested in making documentaries.

In the early 1970s his work appeared in the satirical magazine Nation Review, Woman's Day, London's Oz magazine and also various newspapers of that era.

The main outlet for Leunig's work has been the daily Fairfax press, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age (Melbourne) newspapers published in Australia. In recent years he has focused mainly on political commentary, sometimes substituting his simple drawings with reproduced photographic images with speech balloons attached. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation has also provided airtime to Leunig to discuss his views on a range of political and philosophical issues.

Cartoons

Leunig's drawings are done with a sparse, quavering line, usually in black and white with ink wash, the human characters always drawn with exaggerated features. This style served him well in his early years when he gained a loyal following for his quirky take on social issues. He also made increasingly frequent forays into a personal fantasy world of whimsy, featuring small figures with teapots balanced on their heads, grotesquely curled hair and many ducks.

He has revealed in past interviews that the music of The Beatles inspired his early work, along with European cartoonists and The New Yorker's absurdist writer and cartoonist James Thurber (as well as dogs and ducks).

In his latest cartoons, Leunig frequently satirises concepts such as Americanisation, capitalism, consumerism, corporate success and more recently warmongering, in a personal proclamation against the War on Terror. Of particular note are his recent parodies of political matters, especially those concerning former Australian former prime minister John Howard and former American president George W. Bush. This has earned Leunig the description of "political cartoonist"[3], though this is misleading as only some of his works are political in nature or reference.

His work has frequently explored spiritual and religious ideas.

Popularity

Leunig was declared one of Australian Living Treasures by the National Trust of Australia in 1999.

There has also been a Leunig Melbourne tram.

The philosophical and mystical nature of his work was selected as one theme for the opening ceremony on 15 March 2006 of the 2006 Commonwealth Games held at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in Leunig's hometown of Melbourne. The principal character was a "boy and his duck", exploring the dreams and visions of a boy and Leunig was heard reading a stanza of his poem as a voice-over.

Leunig is the author of a popular Google theme.

Collaboration with Gyan

In 2006 Australian musician Gyan Evans released the album "Billy the Rabbit" which was based on the poetry of Leunig. According to Gyan:

It came about through a complete labour of love. I set a lot of his poetry to music over the space of a year without really knowing what I was doing. I had no motive, no plan. A friend of mine knew him and I contacted him at The Age and sent it to him, he fell madly in love with it.[4]

—Gyan Evans, The Echo Newspaper, Byron Bay, Australia

Gyan and Leunig launched the album at the Melbourne Writers' Festival where Gyan sang and Leunig accompanied her whilst illustrating. The two artists also performed together at the Byron Bay Writers' Festival and the Sydney Opera House.

Controversies

Leunig's cartoons have been the source of controversy. From feminist criticism of his "stay-at-creche baby" cartoon ("I'm a stay-at-creche baby so she doesn't have to be a stay-at-home Mum.") to his anti-war stance in regards to the invasion of Iraq and to the perceived anti-Israeli slant of some of his cartoons, Leunig and his cartoons have become the subject of controversy.

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Ariel Sharon cartoon

On 11 January 2006 the The Age (Melbourne) newspaper published a Leunig cartoon which criticised Israeli leader Ariel Sharon, who at the time was hospitalised following a severe stroke, for sanctioning an attack on an 'old Palestinian in a wheelchair' - a reference to Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, leader and founder of the militant Islamic group Hamas. This piece attracted many letters of protest from readers.

Hamshahri cartoon incident

During the Muhammad cartoons controversy, a cartoon by Leunig was published in an Iranian newspaper Hamshahri as part of a competition seeking cartoons insulting or lampooning the Holocaust in retaliation for the Muhammad cartoons.

The cartoon by Leunig showed two panels, in the first a Jewish man walks through the gate of Auschwitz which bears the sign "Work Brings Freedom" under the heading "Auschwitz 1942". The second panel shows an Israeli soldier walking through a gate in a barbed wire fence into a war zone, the gate this time bearing the sign "War Brings Peace". The second panel is entitled "Israel 2002". The editor of The Age had earlier refused to publish this cartoon.

Leunig denied he had submitted the cartoon as an entry to the competition and said that the act was "malicious and horrible". He demanded the cartoons be withdrawn and the newspaper removed the cartoons and apologised to him. [5] It later emerged that the cartoon had been submitted as a prank by a sometime contributing writer to the satirical website of The Chaser. [6]

Gaza cartoon

On 12 July 2006 the The Age (Melbourne) newspaper published a Leunig cartoon criticising Israel for re-entering Gaza after a six month absence after Hamas militants captured Corporal Gilad Shalit. This cartoon was condemned by many readers as being one sided and failing to acknowledge that Israel was responding to the kidnapping and daily rocket attacks into Israeli cities. Leunig's supporters contended that the kidnapping was a legitimate military capture in response to Israeli attacks and kidnapping of Palestinians.

Personal life

His first marriage, to Pamela, ended in divorce. He married his second wife, Helga, in 1992. His four children were all born on notable dates: Gus on Guy Fawkes Day 1973; Sunny on Valentine's Day 1975; Minna on Australia Day 1992 and Felix on Christmas Day 1995.[7]

Published works

  • The Penguin Leunig (1974)
  • The Second Leunig (1979)
  • The Bedtime Leunig (1981)
  • A Bag of Roosters (1983)
  • Ramming the Shears (1985)
  • The Travelling Leunig (1990)
  • A Common Prayer (1990)
  • The Prayer Tree (1990)
  • Introspective (1991)
  • A Common Philosophy (1992)
  • Everyday Devils and Angels (1992)
  • A Bunch of Posey (1992)
  • You and Me (1995)
  • Short Notes from the Long History of Happiness (1996)
  • Why Dogs Sniff Each Other's Tails (1998)
  • Goatperson and Other Tales (1999)
  • Carnival of the Animals (2000)
  • The Curly Pyjama Letters (2001)
  • The Stick and Other Tales of our Times (2002)
  • Poems (2003)
  • Kicking Behinds (2003)
  • Strange Creature (2003)
  • Wild Figments (2004)
  • A New Penguin Leunig (2005)
  • Hot and Bothered (2007)

Works in the Australian National Bibliographic Database

References

External links


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