When a controversial figure dies, there are a few options you can take in marking their passing. And so, as editorial cartoonist Bill Leak moves on to the next plane of existence, here are some angles you can take in writing about his life and legacy. You’re welcome.
“He was a talented artist”
One time a poet asked if we could know the dancer from the dance, and in the same way it can be difficult to separate the artist from the art. In this obit, you’ll focus almost exclusively on the technical proficiency Leak showed in painting portraits. Feel free to mention composition, the evolution of his craft, how he operated on canvas versus newsprint and/or his skill at capturing the essence of a person with his brush and inks. Leave politics out of it.
“He was a crusader of free speech”
Congratulation is the key to his remembrance, as you hold the man up as an icon of saying what’s in your heart no matter who it offends. This is easier if you’ve never been directly affected by racial, gender or sexual prejudice and as such can take a joke. If you’re feeling conflicted, add some bullshit about not agreeing with what he said necessarily, but defending to the death his right to say it.
“He was a horrible racist”
You know which cartoon to use for this one – the same piece that led to him being lauded by fringe far-right groups for speaking out against political correctness and “snowflakes” before he made himself the victim in a follow-up cartoon. Shed no tears as you quote the gloating grave-dancers of social media, who are using this opportunity to speak out against him once again.
“Famous people liked him”
The shocked reactions of celebrities and prominent citizens are already pouring in, so you’ll have the pick of the litter here. When a person is beloved by both George Christensen and Barry Humphries, you know they really span the political spectrum inhabited by white blokes who don’t like Australia all that much when you think about it. Extra points here if left-wingers and comedians are paying their respects.
“Here’s what he did with his time on the planet”
Keep it factual. Born this day, went to school here, learnt how to art at blah blah, began adding captions thanks to yada yada, achieved a brief shining relevance by making offensive jokes here, died of a suspected heart attack, these people will miss him. Keep your opinions out of it and let the man’s legacy speak for itself.
“He’s dead so you shouldn’t speak ill of him”
Use the word “controversial” and present arguments from both sides of the fence. Find out if he ever gave to charity or went in a fun run, and if possible find an Indigenous and/or gay person to say they found his stuff worthy and that he really made you challenge your beliefs, as long as you’re not thin-skinned. Did he always buy his round? Did he mentor kids in cartooning? Chuck that in.
“His work was really funny”
Really, you shouldn’t lie in an obituary. He can’t hear you now anyway.