Michael Leunig (born 2 June 1945), typically referred to as Leunig, is an Australian poet, cartoonist 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.
Leunig, a fifth generation Australian, 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.
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.
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.
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. His sister, Mary Leunig (b. 1950), is also an accomplished cartoonist.
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 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.
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", though this is misleading as only some of his works are political in nature or reference.
His work has frequently explored spiritual and religious themes.
In 2008, Leunig wrote that "Artists must never shrink from a confrontation with society or the state." 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.
Leunig's opposition to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, although in line with over three-quarters of the Australian populace, 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.”
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 that the act was "malicious and horrible". He demanded the cartoons be withdrawn, which the newspaper did and also apologised to him. It later emerged that the cartoon had been submitted as a prank by a web contributor to the Australian comedic team The Chaser.
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.||”|
—Michael Leunig , 13 January 2006, The Age
Celebrity and tribute
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. 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.||”|
—Gyan Evans, The Echo Newspaper, Byron Bay, Australia
- 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
- The Animated Leunig (videorecording) (c2001)
- A bag of roosters / Michael Leunig (1983, ISBN 0-207-14830-9)
- The bedtime Leunig / Michael Leunig *1981, 0207145059)
- A bunch of posey / Leunig (1992, ISBN 0-207-17798-8)
- A celebration: Michael Leunig / Friends of the National Library of Australia (1997, ISBN 0-646-33090-X)
- A common prayer / Leunig (1990, ISBN 0-85924-933-6)
- A common prayer / Leunig (1993, ISBN 1-86371-231-3)
- A common prayer : a cartoonist talks to God / Leunig (1998, ISBN 1-86371-740-4)
- A conversation between Michael Leunig and Terry Laidler ... (1997)
- The curly pyjama letters / Michael Leunig (2001, ISBN 0-670-04023-1)
- The curly pyjama letters / Michael Leunig (2006, ISBN 978-0-14-300546-9 )
- English in heat / Morris Lurie, drawings by Leunig (1972, ISBN 0-207-12384-5)
- Everyday devils and angels / Michael Leunig (1992, ISBN 0-14-015911-8)
- Goatperson and other tales / Michael Leunig (1999, ISBN 0-14-029140-7)
- The happy prints: printmaking / Michael Leunig (1998)
- Introspective / Michael Leunig, with foreword by Helen Garner (1988, ISBN 1-86436-356-8)
- Introspective / Michael Leunig ; with a foreword by Helen Garner (1991, ISBN 1-86372-200-9)
- Leunig's Carnival of the animals / Michael Leunig, Peter Garrett, Richard Tognetti and the Australian Chamber Orchestra (2000, ISBN 0-7329-1070-6)
- A new Penguin Leunig / Michael Leunig (1992, ISBN 0-14-017097-9)
- A new Penguin Leunig / Michael Leunig (2005, ISBN 0-14-300480-8)
- The Penguin Leunig: cartoons / by Michael Leunig, introduced by Barry Humphries (1974, ISBN 0-14-004019-6)
- Poems 1972-2002 / Michael Leunig (2003, ISBN 0-670-04091-6)
- The prayer tree / Leunig (1991, ISBN 1-86371-034-5)
- The prayer tree / Leunig (1998, ISBN 1-86371-741-2)
- Ramming the shears: a collection of drawings / Michael Leunig (1985, ISBN 0-949266-13-2)
- Ramming the shears: a collection of drawings / Michael Leunig (1990, ISBN 0-14-015801-4)
- The second Leunig, a dusty little swag: cartoons, a few verses and selected moments from the voyage of Vasco Pyjama / by Michael Leunig (1979, ISBN 0-207-14328-5)
- Short notes from the long history of happiness / Michael Leunig (1996, ISBN 0-670-87405-1)
- The stick : and other tales of our times / Michael Leunig (2002, ISBN 0-670-04048-7)
- The stick : and other tales of our times / Michael Leunig (2006, ISBN 978-0-14-300146-1
- Strange creature / Michael Leunig (2003, ISBN 0-670-04136-X)
- The travelling Leunig: cartoons / by Michael Leunig (1990, ISBN 0-14-014867-1)
- Why dogs sniff each other's tails : an old but true story / Michael Leunig (1998, ISBN 0-670-88354-9)
- Wild figments / Michael Leunig (2004, ISBN 0-14-300353-4)
- You and me: a collection of recent pictures, verses, fables, aphorisms and songs / Michael Leunig (1995, ISBN 0-14-025461-7)
- 1001 Australians You Should Know By Toby Creswell, Samantha Trenoweth
- "Rewind", Sunday Life' magazine, The Sunday Age, 16 December 2007, p. 54.
- Zionists witch-hunt Australia's leading cartoonist
- Chaser behind Leunig stunt - National - smh.com.au
- Leunig's official website
- Video: A conversation with Michael Leunig Writers at the Convent
- Interview with Michael Leunig, 2006, by Andrew Denton (ABC Television)
- Today's cartoon in Melbourne's The Age (not always a Leunig cartoon)
- Michael Leunig - 27 June 2004 article from The Age
- Leunig suspects pro-war hoaxers 14 February 2006 The Age