Leo Cullum, long-time Malibu resident, cartoonist, pilot and war veteran, died Oct. 23. He was 68.
Cullum’s cartoons first appeared in The New Yorker in 1977. He published 819 in total for the magazine. He also wrote four books, “Scotch and Toilet Water?” with cartoons about dogs; “Cockatiels for Two,” about cats; “Tequila Mockingbird,” a varied collection and “Suture Self,” which pokes fun at medicine. While animals were favorite characters of his, Cullum’s subject matter covered far more than cats and dogs. He created humorous scenes featuring jokes about the legal system, drinking and various other issues.
His cartoons were simultaneously simple and clever, classic humor with a modern touch. One, for instance, shows Atlas, with the world atop his shoulders, headed straight for a banana peel. While another shows two men sitting in a restaurant as one says, “She’s texting me, but I think she’s also subtexting me.” Cullum liked to use his pets’ behavior as the source for many cartoons, but he also enjoyed taking words and phrases from popular culture as the basis for captions to animal cartoons. For example, in one cartoon, two dogs are shown with one telling the other, “Jimmy Choo, Mahnolo Blahnik-honestly can’t tell the difference.” Cullum’s humor and wit kept readers entertained for decades.
Cullum was born on Jan. 11, 1942 in New Jersey. He attended the College of Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. where he earned a degree in English. After college, Cullum joined the Marine Corps and began flight training. In 1966 he served in Vietnam where he flew in more than 200 missions.
Cullum became a pilot for TWA in 1968. It was during flight layovers that he began to draw cartoons. It was also during his career as a pilot that he met his wife, Kathy. Cullum flew for more than 30 years, retiring in 2001. While he enjoyed flying, he didn’t mind retiring.
“Flying isn’t just as much fun as it used to be, with all the new security,” he told The Malibu Times in 2004. Also, retiring left a lot more time to work on his cartoons and books.
Cullum is remembered as easygoing and funny in a subtle way. Of his presence at a book-signing in 2004, The Times’ Pam Linn wrote, “One would not guess this soft-spoken man to possess the biting wit that has made his work a mainstay of The New Yorker for decades.”
Cullum is survived by his wife of 31 years, Kathy Cullum, as well as his two daughters, Kaitlin Cullum and Kimberly Cullum Berry, son-in-law, Marcus Berry and a brother, Thomas Cullum of Virginia.
A public funeral service will take place on Friday at St. Monica’s Church, located at 725 California St. in Santa Monica, at 10 a.m. Following the ceremony, a police escorted motorcade will travel to Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City for burial. An evening reception will take place at Cullum’s Malibu home at 6 p.m.