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Michael Atchison, 1933-2009
posted February 17, 2009


Michael Atchison, the long-time editorial cartoonist for the Adelaide Advertiser and the Sydney Daily-Mirror, died on Monday from complications due to cancer. Atchison passed away at the Mary Potter Hospice in Wellington. He was 75 years old.

Atchison was born in Victoria, Australia in 1933. He studied at King's College (1946-1950) and Adelaide University Teachers' College (1952-1954), and later received training at the South Australia School of Art. Atchison spent most of the 1950s as a teacher, concentrating on high school-aged art students. He also taught English and French.

Like many artists, Atchison found his first audience overseas. He moved to England in 1960 and spent the majority of that decade freelancing for publications such as the humor magazine Punch (where he also contributed covers) and the literary and political publication Time and Tide.

In 1967, Atchison returned to Australia and became a political cartoonist at the Sydney Daily Mirror. In 1968 he also began providing cartoons to the Adelaide Advertiser. A dog that he included in a 1974 cartoon to pee on a Jackson Pollock painting became his signature creation. The nameless creature frequently appeared in the bottom right-hand corner of Atchison's cartoons getting the last word. In the 1980s, Atchison co-organized an exhibition of modern cartoonist and held a convention in their honor. At the end of the decade, Atchison began a syndicated daily called Word For Word on English usage, which was syndicated internationally.

He also found work as a book illustrator, including the lovely Songs For My Dog and Other Wry Rhymes for the poet Max Fatchen.

In 2007, Atchison was inducted into the Order of Australia for his decades of service to that country's media. "I've never been in favor of awards for just doing your job and I was in two minds about accepting this gong -- but the dog kicked up so much fuss that I thought I'd better say 'okay' just to keep him quiet," he told the Advertiser in their article on the honor. That same year, he won the Jim Russell Award from the Australian Cartoonists Association.

Atchison entered into semi-retirement in the mid-1990s after being initially diagnosed with cancer. He moved into full retirement in early 2008 and declared that it was time for him to find a proper job. Word For Word will run until early May.

He is survived by a wife, two daughters and three grandchildren.