09 August 2008

I'm in Australia. On holiday.

What do you expect from an Australian cartoonist whom I met at an arts festival in Titirangi, Auckland, new Zealand.

Michael Leunig is a treasure not to be missed. He is 5th generation Australian, in his early 60s now, something of a national treasure among Australian progressives.
He has a very interesting website of his own, with writing about his work and his politics. A well-informed admirer, who maintains a Leunig appreciation website called Curly Flat, has described Leunig as follows: Though his profession may be listed as "cartoonist" on his tax return, Michael Leunig is much more. Although his work is at times incredibly mirth provoking he is not so much a humorist as an observer, philosopher, commentator, historian of the absurd and catalyst for free thinking. Born in East Melbourne (Victoria, Australia) in 1945, Leunig subsequently evolved in Footscray, an eclectic inner industrial suburb, until his success as a satirical political cartoonist afforded him the means to escape the city in favour of the gentler ambience of nearby country environs. From his early work in the 60's when he was published in such diverse journals as Newsday, Woman's Day and the controversial London Oz magazine, Leunig developed his distinctive pen style and eye for the ridiculous which led to publication in 1974 of his first book The Penguin Leunig (see elsewhere on the site for a complete anthology). These days he lives somewhere near Melbourne where he is a regular contributor to the local daily broadsheet The Age and fridge doors all over the country. While most Australians are familiar with his work, few could tell you anything about the man and yet through his cartoons, know everything about him. By all accounts he is indeed shy, gentle and pensive, and his work reveals him to be cynical, witty, sensitive, deeply spiritual, emotionally precarious, at times depressed and always insightful. A dysfunctional genius perhaps. Michael Leunig simultaneously defines and defies most Australian stereotypes, and I, for one, am thankful.

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