Michael Leunig

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Michael Leunig
Michael Leunig 2012.JPG
Leunig, in May 2012.
Born (1945-06-02) June 2, 1945 (age 69)
East Melbourne
Nationality Australian
Alma mater Swinburne Film and Television School
Occupation Cartoonist
Spouse(s) Pamela Munro (????—????)
Helga (married 1992—present)
Children Gus, Sunny, Minna, Felix
Website
www.leunig.com.au

Michael Leunig (born 2 June 1945), typically referred to as Leunig (his signature on his cartoons), is an Australian cartoonist, poet and cultural commentator. 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.

Biography[edit]

Leunig, a fifth generation Australian,[1] was born in East Melbourne, grew up in the Melbourne suburb of Footscray where he went to Footscray North Primary School.[2] When time came for him to go to high school, he first had to attend classes held at the nearby Royal Melbourne Showgrounds as his school, Maribyrnong High School, hadn't been finished yet.[3] He failed his final year examinations, twice.[3]

After working as a labourer in an abattoir,[4] Leunig enrolled at the Swinburne Film and Television School, where he was at first interested in making documentaries. 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.[5]

He began his cartoon career while at Swinburne in the late 1960s when his cartoons appeared in the Monash University student newspaper Lot's Wife.[6] In the early 1970s his work appeared in the radical/satirical magazines Nation Review, The Digger, and London's Oz magazine as well as mainstream publications including Newsday, and Woman's Day.

The main outlet for Leunig's work has been the daily Fairfax press, Melbourne's The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald. 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.

Family[edit]

Leunig's first marriage, to Pamela Munro, 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]

His sister, Mary Leunig (b. 1950), is also an accomplished cartoonist.[8]

Cartoons[edit]

Leunig's drawings are done with a sparse, quivering line, usually in black and white with ink wash, the human characters always drawn with exaggerated noses. 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.

Leunig has frequently satirised concepts such as Americanisation, greed, consumerism, corporations and warmongering, in a personal proclamation against the War on Terror. Of particular note were his parodies of political matters, especially those concerning former Australian Prime Minister John Howard and former American president George W. Bush. This has earned Leunig the description of "political cartoonist",[9] though this is misleading as only some of his works are political in nature or reference.

His work has also frequently explored spiritual and religious themes.

Controversial works[edit]

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

In 2008, Leunig wrote that "Artists must never shrink from a confrontation with society or the state."[10] His cartoons have occasionally been a source of controversy. Between 1995 and 2000 he drew the ire of "working mothers" by satirising the heavy reliance upon childcare services in Australian culture in several of his works.[11]

Leunig's opposition to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, although in line with over three-quarters of the Australian populace,[12] drew some criticism in the press. He commented that "...if a cartoonist is representing the government line on Iraq, they’re nothing better than a propagandist."[9]

In 2006, Fairfax Media censored a cartoon in New South Wales but not in Victoria, which criticised the then-Prime Minister, John Howard.[13]

Leunig has also stated his opposition to the Israeli government and three of his 2004 - 2006 pieces drew letters of protest nationally and internationally in relation to this. The three pieces took as their subjects: IDF bomber pilots (13 April 2004); Sheikh Ahmed Yassin's assassination order from Ariel Sharon (11 January 2006); and the renewed Gaza occupation (12 July 2006). A fourth piece was refused publication and has since been more widely criticised for potentially confounding his opposition to the policies of Israel, with an antisemitic, generalised subversion of the Jewish experience, by relying upon a reference to the Jewish Holocaust. This piece came to international attention after it won an Iranian competition conceived by the newspaper Hamshahri as retaliation for the Muhammad cartoons controversy. Leunig denied he had submitted the cartoon as an entry to the competition and said "I've been set up horribly, maliciously".[14] He demanded the cartoons be withdrawn, which the newspaper did and also apologised to him.[14] It later emerged that the cartoon had been submitted as a prank by a web contributor to the Australian comedic team The Chaser.[15]

Leunig has partially defined his position with this statement:

I have a Jewish friend, a Holocaust survivor, who says that she never could have lived in Israel because in her view it is a totalitarian state.... I believe that something fundamental and vital, not just to Israel but to the entire world, has been gravely mishandled by the present Israeli administration and it bothers me deeply. It is my right to express it.[9]

—Michael Leunig , 13 January 2006, The Age

Celebrity and tribute[edit]

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

Melbourne, his hometown, has taken him into their hearts. Not only has there been a Leunig tram but Leunig featured strongly in the opening ceremony of the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games. In this performance, the philosophical and mystical nature of his work was on display. It featured a "boy and his duck" and the boy's dreams and visions. Leunig was heard reading a stanza of his poem as a voice-over.

Leunig was also the creator of a popular iGoogle theme.[16]

Collaboration with Gyan[edit]

In 2006 Australian musician Gyan Evans released the album Billy the Rabbit which was based on the poetry of Leunig. Gyan and Leunig launched the album at the Melbourne Writers Festival with Leunig illustrating during Gyan's singing. They also performed together at the Byron Bay Writers' Festival and the Sydney Opera House.

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.[17]

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

Published works[edit]

  • 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[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Toby Creswell, Samantha Trenoweth (1 January 2006). 1001 Australians You Should Know. Pluto Press Australia. Retrieved 13 December 2013. 
  2. ^ "Biography". Leunig.com.au website. Retrieved 13 December 2013. 
  3. ^ a b Michael Leunig (February 9, 20). "Education and the bunghole of life". The Age. Retrieved 13 December 2013. 
  4. ^ Michael Leunig (January 13, 2007). "Blood and guts, violence and death". The Age. Retrieved 13 December 2013. 
  5. ^ Michael Leunig (October 14, 2006). "Lest we forget". The Age. Retrieved 13 December 2013. 
  6. ^ "Leunig, Michael (1945-) - People and organisations". Trove. National Library of Australia. Retrieved 13 December 2013. 
  7. ^ "Rewind". Sunday Life magazine The Sunday Age: 54. 16 December 2007. 
  8. ^ "About". maryleunig.com website. Retrieved 13 December 2013. 
  9. ^ a b c Richard Phillips (23 February 2006). "Zionists witch-hunt Australia’s leading cartoonist". World Socialist Web Site. Retrieved 13 December 2013. 
  10. ^ Michael Leunig (June 7, 2008). "Art from the heart". The Age. Retrieved 13 December 2013. 
  11. ^ Bettina Arndt (April 29, 2000). "All Care...". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 13 December 2013. 
  12. ^ "Australian PM censured over Iraq". BBC News website. BBC. 5 February 2003. Retrieved 13 December 2013. 
  13. ^ "Leunig and Good Taste". Media Watch. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 29 May 2006. Retrieved 13 December 2013. 
  14. ^ a b "Australian in Iran cartoon 'hoax'". BBC news website. 14 February 2006. Retrieved 13 December 2013. 
  15. ^ Justin Norrie (February 16, 2006). "Chaser behind Leunig stunt". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 13 December 2013. 
  16. ^ "iGoogle Artist Themes - Michael Leunig". Retrieved 13 December 2013. 
  17. ^ "Gyan and Mr Curly" (PDF). The Echo - Echonetdaily. p. 2. Retrieved 13 December 2013. 

External links[edit]