Leo Cullum, a cartoonist whose droll images of dog doctors, businessmen in sombreros and lions in therapy helped define the style of The New Yorker magazine in recent decades, has died, his brother said Monday night. Thomas Cullum told The Associated Press that Leo Cullum died of cancer Saturday in Malibu, five years after he was diagnosed with the disease. He was 68. For 33 years, Cullum contributed hundreds of cartoons to the magazine. His distinctive characters — usually with pointy noses and always lacking chins — were also often used for the magazine’s popular caption contest.
One of his best-known cartoons featured a stern man standing with his cat next to its litter and saying, “Never, ever think outside the box.” Another shows a clown giving a little girl a balloon with the caveat, “But remember, you’re responsible for your own happiness.” Another showed a man stranded on a desert island and a fish with feet walking ashore. “This island isn’t big enough for two cliches,” the man says. Cullum was best known for his constant use of cats and dogs, but said another animal was the perfect vehicle for his humor. “To me, lions are really the funniest,” Cullum told The New Yorker in an interview for its website last year.
For most of his years as cartoonist, Cullum was also a full-time pilot for TWA and later American Airlines. He retired at 60 and devoted himself completely to drawing. “I was cartooning during most of my 34 years of flying for TWA,” he said in the 2009 interview. “I would draw during my layovers and on my days off from flying, so it really wasn’t much of an adjustment, except that I wasn’t drawing in Paris or Rome anymore.”
A native of New Jersey, Cullum went to a Jesuit school where his brother said he spent most of his time doodling in the margins of his textbooks. “He would be looking out the window, not paying attention to his studies, doing these wonderful little drawings,” Thomas Cullum said. After graduating from College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts, Leo Cullum became a Marine Corps pilot and flew hundreds of missions over Vietnam. He was hired by TWA out of the Marine Corps, but was constantly cartooning on the side, always with his eye on The New Yorker. The magazine rejected his early attempts but bought some of his ideas for use by its legendary cartoonist Charles Addams. After selling his work to several small publications he finally cracked the pages of The New Yorker early in 1977. In all he contributed 819 cartoons to the magazine, the last of which appeared in the Oct. 25 issue, according to The New York Times, which first reported his death.
He spent his later years in upscale, sunny Malibu. Cullum said the beautiful and relaxing environment actually made his work harder. “I have not gotten one cartoon idea from living in Malibu,” he told The New Yorker. “It’s not a funny place. Pretty, but not funny. Maybe that’s the problem. Too much sun and blue water.”
In addition to Thomas, Leo Cullum is survived by his wife Kathy and two daughters.