Leunig in May 2012
|Born||2 June 1945|
East Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
|Alma mater||Swinburne Film and Television School|
|Occupation||Cartoonist, poet, artist|
|Spouse(s)||Pamela Munro (unknown)|
Helga Salwe (1992–present)
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Michael Leunig (born 2 June 1945), typically referred to as Leunig (his signature on his cartoons), is an Australian cartoonist, poet, artist and cultural commentator. His best known works include The Adventures of Vasco Pyjama and the Curly Flats series of book compilations of his cartoons. He was declared an Australian Living Treasure by the National Trust of Australia in 1999.
Life and career
Leunig, a fifth generation Australian, was born in East Melbourne and grew up in Footscray, an inner western suburb, where he went to Footscray North Primary School. He then went to Maribyrnong High School, but as the school had not finished being built, he first had to attend classes held at the nearby Royal Melbourne Showgrounds in Ascot Vale. He failed his final year examinations, twice.
After working as a labourer in an abattoir, 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; he was rejected on health grounds when it was revealed that he was deaf in one ear.
Leunig began his cartoon career while at Swinburne in 1965 when his cartoons appeared in the Monash University student newspaper Lot's Wife. 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 Media newspapers, Melbourne's The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald. In more recent years he has focused mainly on political commentary, sometimes replacing or supplementing 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 drawings are done with a sparse and quivering line, usually in black and white with ink wash; the human characters are 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. Readers and critics took special note of his parodies of political matters, especially those concerning former Australian prime minister John Howard and former American president George W. Bush. These have earned Leunig a description as a "political cartoonist", although only some of his works are political in nature or reference.
His work has also frequently explored spiritual, religious and moral themes.
Leunig's cartoons have occasionally been a source of controversy. In 2008, he wrote that "Artists must never shrink from a confrontation with society or the state."
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. Three of his 2004–2006 cartoons 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 cartoon came to international attention after it was entered in 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." He demanded that his cartoon be withdrawn; the newspaper did this and also apologised to him. It later emerged that the cartoon had been submitted as a prank by Richard Cooke, 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
There has also been controversy around Leunig's views on vaccinations as well as a controversial work that depicted a mother on her mobile phone scrolling through Instagram not noticing that her child had fallen out of the pram, the poem reading:
Characters and themes
In the series of cartoons that Leunig has created over the duration of his career, a number of characters have persistently appeared, including:
- The Duck
- Mr Curly – a contented character who is at ease in the natural world
- Vasco Pyjama – a restless wanderer who sometimes seeks the counsel of Mr Curly
Leunig has, from a very early stage in his career, often included his own handwritten poetry within his cartoons; subsequently he has also published books of poetry. He has been very open about his themes, in interviews about his work.
Leunig's first marriage, to Pamela Munro, ended in divorce. He married his second wife, Helga, in 1992 but separated in the 2010s. A film documentary about his life by Kasimir Burgess, The Leunig Fragments, was released in 2020 and reveals various difficulties that Leunig has experienced with family relationships. He did not attend his parents' funerals and is not in regular contact with his sibings. His four children were all born on notable dates: Gus on Guy Fawkes Day 1974, Sunny on Valentine's Day 1980, Minna on Australia Day 1992 and Felix on Christmas Day 1994. All of his children had homeschooling.
Honours and celebrity
- 1999 – Leunig was declared an Australian Living Treasure by the National Trust of Australia
- There has been a Melbourne tram decorated with his cartoon characters
- 2006 – Leunig featured strongly at the opening ceremony of the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games. In the 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 the creator of a popular iGoogle theme.
- 2016 – Metrosideros leunigii, the oldest described fossil species of the flowering plant genus Metrosideros, was named after Leunig.
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) (40th anniversary reissue 2014)
- The Second Leunig: a Dusty Little Swag (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 Poesy (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)
- The Lot: in Words (2008)
- When I Talk to You (2014)
- Musings from the Inner Duck (2015)
- Poems: 1972-2002 (2003 hardback) later Curly Verse: Selected Poems (2010 paperback)
- The Essential Leunig: Cartoons from a Winding Path (2012)
- Holy Fool: Artworks (2014)
- The Wayward Leunig (2015)
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 poesy / 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)
- Toby Creswell, Samantha Trenoweth (1 January 2006). 1001 Australians You Should Know. Pluto Press Australia]. Retrieved 13 December 2013.
- "Biography". Leunig.com.au website. Retrieved 13 December 2013.
- Michael Leunig (9 February 2008). "Education and the bunghole of life". The Age. Retrieved 13 December 2013.
- Michael Leunig (13 January 2007). "Blood and guts, violence and death". The Age. Retrieved 13 December 2013.
- Michael Leunig (14 October 2006). "Lest we forget". The Age. Retrieved 13 December 2013.
- Gravett, Paul, 1001 Comics You Should Read Before You Die, Universe, 2011, p. 269.
- "Leunig, Michael (1945–) – People and organisations". Trove. National Library of Australia. Retrieved 13 December 2013.
- Richard Phillips (23 February 2006). "Zionists witch-hunt Australia's leading cartoonist". World Socialist Web Site. Retrieved 13 December 2013.
- Michael Leunig (7 June 2008). "Art from the heart". The Age. Retrieved 13 December 2013.
- Bettina Arndt (29 April 2000). "All Care..." Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 13 December 2013.
- "Will political correctness kill the cartoon?". The Sydney Morning Herald. 10 June 2010. Retrieved 26 August 2019.
- "Australian PM censured over Iraq". BBC News website. BBC. 5 February 2003. Retrieved 13 December 2013.
- "Leunig and Good Taste". Media Watch. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 29 May 2006. Retrieved 13 December 2013.
- "Australian in Iran cartoon 'hoax'". BBC news. 14 February 2006. Retrieved 13 December 2013.
- Norrie, Justin (16 February 2006). "Chaser behind Leunig stunt". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 13 December 2013.
- "Leunig's anti-vaccination stance reveals the fantasy world he lives in". The Guardian. 19 August 2015. Retrieved 26 August 2019.
- "Michael Leunig cartoon supports anti-vaxxers 'rights'". The New Daily. 16 April 2015. Retrieved 26 August 2019.
- Croggon, Alison (2 April 1991), "My life with a duck. -Cartoonist Michael Leunig-", Bulletin (Sydney): 98–99, ISSN 1440-7485
- Holland, Angus (21 November 1995), "Mr Curly comes clean. -Inside the Michael Leunig asylum.-", Sydney Weekly: 12–15, ISSN 1324-3993
- "The Curly Pyjama Letters by Michael Leunig". www.penguin.com.au. Retrieved 6 April 2019.
- Leunig, Michael (October 1987), "Michael Leunig: poetry in pictures. -Interview conducted by Ewins, Rory-", Togatus, 58 (8): 16–19, retrieved 27 October 2014
- Leunig, Michael (6 May 1991), "Michael Leunig, a very unpretentious man. -Interview-", Lot's Wife, 21 (i.e. v.31) (6): 12–14, retrieved 27 October 2014
- Leunig, Michael (1995), "Making a cartoon: despair, chaos ... and the clock keeps ticking. - Interview with Michael Leunig by O'Connor, Peter-", Temenos (Canberra) (1): 19–22, retrieved 27 October 2014
- Leunig, Michael (23 April 2000), "A Leunig kind of thing [For more than 30 years Michael Leunig has presented his unique cartoon vision of the human condition. Interview by, McAloon, Dan]", Catholic Weekly, 59 (4008): 12–13, ISSN 0008-8420
- The Leunig Fragments
- The Guardian
- "Rewind". Sunday Life magazine The Sunday Age: 54. 16 December 2007.
- "About". maryleunig.com website. Retrieved 13 December 2013.
- Leunig Fragments documentary.
- "iGoogle Artist Themes – Michael Leunig". Archived from the original on 15 December 2013. Retrieved 13 December 2013.
- "Tarran, Myall; Wilson, Peter; Hill, Robert (April 2016). "Oldest record of Metrosideros (Myrtaceae): Fossil flowers, fruits, and leaves from Australia". American Journal of Botany. 103 (4): 754–768. doi:10.3732/ajb.1500469. PMID 27056926.
- "Gyan and Mr Curly" (PDF). The Echo – Echonetdaily. p. 2. Archived from the original (PDF) on 31 August 2006. Retrieved 13 December 2013.
- Official website
- Video: Michael Leunig in conversation with Jane Sullivan, Writers at the Convent, February 2009
- Interview with Michael Leunig, Enough Rope with Andrew Denton, 2006
- Today's cartoon in Melbourne's The Age (not always a Leunig cartoon)
- Feature – Michael Leunig, 27 June 2004, The Age
- One Plus One - Michael Leunig, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, December 2017