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Tucson Weekly Hitting Below the Belt

We'd love to say cartoonist John Callahan is a real stand-up guy, but...

By James DiGiovanna

MARCH 2, 1998: 

Will the Real John Callahan Please Stand Up?, by John Callahan, with an introduction by Robin Williams (William Morrow). Hardcover, $20.

JOHN CALLAHAN IS probably the most hated cartoonist since Mort Walker. His gag panel featuring a young Martin Luther King pointing to a wet spot on his bed and saying, "I had a dream," was rejected by nearly every paper that had been daring enough to print Callahan's work in the past. Another of his panels showed two construction workers pointing to a donkey strapped to the back of a female dog and saying, "Look at the ass on that bitch." This is either a combination of witty wordplay and insightful commentary on sexist language, or one of the most offensive things ever printed, depending on who you ask.

If you ask John Callahan, he'll refuse to interpret; but he loves to quote from his hate mail, much of which fleshes out the reflections, memories and cartoons in Will the Real John Callahan Please Stand Up. The title is a play on the fact that Callahan, like many of the characters in his cartoons, is a quadriplegic. His stories about accidentally urinating while trying to pick up on passing women, falling out of his wheelchair and being stuck face down on the floor for the five hours it takes for his caretaker to arrive, and other such pleasures of paralyzed existence, are told with none of the bitter-saccharine flavor of a network "triumph over adversity" TV-movie.

Rather, Callahan remains, after more than 20 years without the use of his limbs, angry and twisted. Luckily, he's converted much of his bile into his nasty cartooning, with some left over for the tales from his life which make this book an oddly inspiring, if also disturbing, read.

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