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In spring 2022, Mick Cusimano stepped onto the stage at the Boston International Film Festival to three standing ovations. He had been hospitalized for brain cancer just weeks before, but he had recovered enough to present a screening of his film at the festival.
Cusimano, 71, died of cancer on July 23. He dubbed himself “the professor of surrealism” and had a deep passion for history, arts, poetry, and film, his friends recalled.
Daniel Cusimano, Mick’s brother, said he started creating cartoons which depicted their cub scout adventures at the age of seven. By elementary school, Mick Cusimano developed a passion for Egyptian, Greek and Classical Roman history. He especially enjoyed learning about Cleopatra, who later became a subject of many of his films and animations.
While on a work trip to Boston in the 1980s, Cusimano saw a hiring post for security guards at the Harvard Art Museums. Cusimano, a Buffalo, New York, native, took the job and “never looked back,” his brother said.
“It was paradise to him,” Daniel Cusimano said. “I could not visit him without going to the Harvard Art Museum.”
“He was always, always proud of that connection,” he added.
At Harvard, Cusimano continued to pursue his interest in the arts, delving into film and animation by taking 16 classes at the Extension School. In addition, he began illustrating cartoons for The Crimson in 2013, many of which addressed political themes. Cusimano also worked as a live caricature artist at parties, college events, and bar mitzvahs in the Boston area.
Ansis Purins, a friend and co-worker of Cusimano’s for 18 years, said Cusimano “wasn’t like a boss” and was “more like a friend,” recalling how he would sometimes start sketching in his notepad once all mail was delivered.
“Mick was a very unusual, individualistic person, he had his own style,” Purins said. “If he had been a bit 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 coffeehouse 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 looking at the world,” Cambridge said. “It was like a kaleidoscopic eye. He would see things differently.”
As technology progressed, Cusimano began animating his cartoons and later incorporating live performance and graphics into his movies.
Cusimano is survived by his eight siblings. His friends and family are hosting a Nov. 11 memorial for in Somerville.
After Cusimano was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2018, he often said to Cambridge that the disease “only got to the real part” of his brain, not the “surreal part.”
Despite battling brain cancer for more than three years, Cambridge said Cusimano continued to pursue his passion for film.
“In those three years, he made really good use of his time,” Cambridge said. “He got right through surgery and got right back to work. Whenever his radiation therapy, he just kept going. It was real inspiration in a very modest way.”
—Staff writer Marina Qu can be reached at marina.qu@thecrimson. Follow her on Twitter @MingyiQu.
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