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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 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.
His sister, Mary Leunig (b. 1950), is also an accomplished cartoonist.
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 "political cartoonist", though this is misleading as only some of his works are political in nature or reference.
His work has also frequently explored spiritual, religious and moral themes.
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 'Mummy was busy on Instagram
When beautiful bubby fell out of the pram
and lay on the path unseen and alone
Wishing that he was loved like a phone.
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:
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.
2006 - 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.
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
Collections of press cartoons and original art and/or poems
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)
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)
^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, ISSN0008-8420
^"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. PMID27056926.