Michael Leunig


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.
In the early 1970s his work appeared in the satirical magazine Nation Review, Woman’s Day, London’s Oz magazine and also various newspapers of that era.

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 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.

He has revealed in past interviews that the music of The Beatles inspired his early work, along with European cartoonists and The New Yorker’s absurdist writer and cartoonist James Thurber (as well as dogs and 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”,[5] 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 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.

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.