John J. Gallagher, 79, honored gag cartoonist

Posted: March 23, 2005

John J. Gallagher, 79, of Southampton, Burlington County, an award-winning cartoonist whose work appeared in such publications as the Saturday Evening Post, Collier's and Sport magazine, died of complications from emphysema Thursday at Virtua-West Jersey Hospital Voorhees.

Mr. Gallagher emerged as a star cartoonist in the 1950s with a fluid drawing style he used to convey humor in the simplicities of American life.

His characters, often featuring bulbous noses, made readers laugh at the familiar and at themselves. Raising children, going to work, coping with the occasional misbehaving pet - all were staples of Mr. Gallagher's work.

"He was one of my heroes," said Johnny Hart, creator of the comic strips B.C. and Wizard of Id. "In the early days, there were a gang of gag cartoonists who were hot, and John Gallagher was the hottest of them all. He was funny in both his drawing and his humor."

Gag cartoons are the single- or multiple-panel drawings found in publications such as the New Yorker. In their heyday, they were a mainstay of many magazines, and Mr. Gallagher would sell them door to door during a weekly trip to New York. For lunch, he would go to a Manhattan cafe called the Pen & Pencil for a regular gathering of well-known cartoonists including George Wolfe, Dick Cavalli and Don Orehek.

Mr. Gallagher, who was born in Englewood, N.J., served in the Navy as a signal man on the destroyer escort Carroll during World War II. After the war, he studied art at Syracuse University and the Pratt Institute in New York. He married Dorothy Lotter in 1951.

Mr. Gallagher not only drew cartoons but also did illustrations and even wrote a Boys' Life advice column for aspiring cartoonists. The National Cartoonists Society twice honored him as best gag cartoonist of the year.

When cartoons began to disappear from magazines, Mr. Gallagher worked for corporations and advertising companies. He also helped his brother George Gately Gallagher produce his comic strip, Heathcliff.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Gallagher is survived by sons John and Michael, daughters Jean Gallagher-Heil and Lynn Gallagher-Ford, and five grandchildren.

Services were held yesterday. Burial is private.

Memorial donations may be be made to the American Lung Association, 29 Emmons Dr., Princeton, N.J. 08543.

Contact staff writer Kristin E. Holmes at 215-854-2791 or kholmes@phillynews.com.

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