The irony of cartoonist John Callahan's final wishes escaped no one.
A few days before his death last weekend, Callahan told one of his brothers that he wanted a Catholic funeral. That surprised the family, given that Callahan devoted a good portion of his cartoons' biting humor toward the church, even though he had been raised Catholic. Below is one of those cartoons.
The family nevertheless honored his wishes today, holding a service for him at St. Mary's Cathedral in Northwest Portland, just blocks from Callahan's home.
More than 250 people heard Rich Callahan give a moving eulogy for his brother, making note of the of the setting while pointing out that John had great reverence for the Catholic Church.
The Rev. George Wolf took it one step further, pointing out that John would occasionally come and spend time in St. Mary's courtyard. "I think he appreciated the church as well," Wolf continued with a comedic sense of timing, "because it gave him a lot of material."
Among the 250-plus people attending were Portland notables like Music Millennium founder Terry Currier, Norm Frink, a chief deputy district attorney for Multnomah County; and Andy Warhol associate and animal rights activist Paige Powell. Also attending were former newspaper columnist Phil Stanford; socialite Wendy Burden, widow of entrepreneur Tiger Warren; acoustic blues guitarist Terry Robb, and victim rights advocate Steve Doell.
These folks had little in common save an affection for the intellect and take-no-prisoner humor that was John Callahan, who died at age 59 after gracing WW's pages with his comics for 27 years.
Brother Rich shared the outlines of John's youth, his early aptitude for art and music (despite the fact that, "The Dalles was not much of an epicenter for artistic culture.") and the automobile accident in 1972 that left Callahan (a passenger in the car) unable to walk. Rich added what many who have known John well believe to be the case--that the accident that sent him to a wheelchair likely "saved his life." That's because the accident ultimately prompted John--a raging alcoholic since his teens--to give up the bottle.
"He didn't have a single relapse in 32 years," said Rich. "And it was this, rather than his art, that made his mom most proud."
But it was his brother's art that Rich spoke most glowingly about, paraphrasing a Washington Post appreciation that said Callahan was the first to apply edgy darkness to comics and paved the way for shows like Family Guy.
Rich spoke about the angry letters to the editor that WW and other papers around the nation received about Callahan's work and how "he would pin those letters on his fridge the way a hunter would hang trophies on the wall."
Callahan was cremated and its not yet clear where his remains are headed. In the meantime, close friends are planning a tribute to him in August. Details will follow. Meantime, for those who need one more dose of the Mayor of Lovejoy, here's a loving slide show.