In the spring of 2022, Mick Cusimano took to the stage at the Boston International Film Festival for three standing ovations. He had been hospitalized for brain cancer a few weeks earlier, but had recovered enough to present a screening of his film at the festival.
Cusimano, 71, died of cancer on July 23. He called himself “the professor of surrealism” and had a deep passion for history, the arts, poetry and cinema, his friends remember.
Daniel Cusimano, Mick’s brother, said he started creating cartoons depicting their Cub adventures when he was seven years old. From elementary school, Mick Cusimano developed a passion for classical Egyptian, Greek and Roman history. He especially enjoyed learning about Cleopatra, which later became the subject of many of his films and animations.
While on a work trip to Boston in the 1980s, Cusimano saw a job recruiting security guards at the Harvard Art Museums. Cusimano, a native of Buffalo, New York, took the job and “never looked back,” his brother said.
“It was heaven for him,” Daniel Cusimano said. “I couldn’t visit him without going to the Harvard Art Museum.”
“He was always, always proud of that connection,” he added.
At Harvard, Cusimano continued his interest in the arts, immersing himself in film and animation while taking 16 courses at the Extension School. Moreover, he started illustrating cartoons for The Crimson in 2013, many of which dealt with political themes. Cusimano has also worked as a live cartoonist at parties, college events, and bar mitzvahs in the Boston area.
Ansis Purins, a friend and colleague of Cusimano for 18 years, said Cusimano “wasn’t like a boss” and was “more like a friend”, recalling how he sometimes started sketching in his notebook once all mail was delivered.
“Mick was a very unusual and individualistic person, he had his own style,” Purins said. “If he had been a little younger, he would have been a punk rocker or a hippie or a beatnik.”
Poet Richard Cambridge became close friends with Cusimano after meeting him at a poetry cafe in Allston in 1990. The two would travel around Cambridge and perform stand-up poetry together, he said.
“Mick had a very unique way of seeing the world,” Cambridge said. “It was like a kaleidoscopic eye. He would see things differently.
As technology advanced, Cusimano began to animate his cartoons and later incorporate live performances and graphics into his films.
Cusimano is survived by his eight siblings. Friends and family hold a 9/11 memorial in Somerville.
After Cusimano was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2018, he often told Cambridge that the disease “only affected the real part” of his brain, not the “surreal part”.
Despite battling brain cancer for more than three years, Cambridge said Cusimano continues to pursue his passion for filmmaking.
“In those three years he has made very good use of his time,” Cambridge said. “He underwent surgery and went back to work. Each time his radiotherapy, he just kept going. It was a real inspiration in a very modest way.
—Editor Marina Qu can be reached at marina.qu@thecrimson. Follow her on Twitter @MingyiQu.