Monday, 15 September 2008

The Covers of Ralph Steadman

A few posts ago I showed an old Penguin with a Ralph Steadman cover. This got me thinking, and I've tried to track down as many other Steadman covers as I can. Like most people, I first encountered his frenetic, savage cartoons in Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and it's this collaboration for which he is probably best known.





But Steadman has been productive for a long time. Born in 1936 and brought up in Wales, he now lives in Kent and is still, fortunately, going strong. He has written and illustrated a number of books on his own (some for children and some, including several on booze, rather less so)...

















..and for someone whose work can be very politically savage, he is a natural fit with both George Orwell and Ambrose Bierce, as well as the more fuzzy rantings of Will Self and the dark children's books of Roald Dahl.






He has also illustrated an edition of Alice in Wonderland...



..a children's novel about a bushranger by the great Australian writer Randolph Stow (few non-Australians realise just how central the bushrangers, like Ned Kelly, Captains Moonlite, Starlight and Thunderbolt, Ben Hall, etc, are to my country's self-image)...



..and the dementedly (and unintentionally) funny juvenilia-novellas of Daisy Ashford.



(By the way, if you're a fan of Ashford, the Internet Archive has a fine collection of her work as scanned PDFs here.)

Then we have demented comedy of a different kind, with Flann O'Brien:



Here are the Penguin covers I could find that he provided.








And finally, two oddments: a political cartooning history, and a cover for Poetry magazine.



UPDATE: Commenter Kevin Arthur pointed me towards this other Steadman cover for a Walter Benjamin essay collection...



..which also gives me another excuse to re-post this cover, from the new series of Penguin Great Ideas; this witty cover being a David Pearson job.

8 comments:

Kevin Arthur said...

There's a new edition of Walter Benjamin's "The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility" with a Steadman cover (Harvard University Press/Belknap).

JRSM said...

Wow, I didn't know about that one--thanks for pointing that out; I'll add it to the post.

Kevin Arthur said...

I've seen that Penguin cover too (at your blog of course, and elsewhere) -- I'll definitely be picking that one up when it's available.

Robert Hanks said...

Late again: just to ask - is it me, or has Steadman's art deteriorated over the years? He's still great, but now the splats and blots seem rather samey. Fantastic selection, though. I think I must buy Golk.

JRSM said...

You might be right: I wonder if that's a hard-to-avoid result of having such an individual approach--like some great writers who've ended up being a prisoner of their own instantly recognisable style.

Craig D. said...

I own the Modern Library edition of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and it has this unfortunate cover:

http://tinyurl.com/32wexlt

It's not a bad tie-in cover, due to the fact that (A) it was always a good movie poster and (B) they class it up a bit by avoiding the typical tawdry tie-in elements like having "NOW A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE STARRING JOHNNY DEPP!" stamped at the top in huge letters. But I call it unfortunate because, compared to Steadman's artwork, there's no comparison, and one of his images should, by all means, be gracing the cover. At least his illustrations are still in the book.

Still, it could be worse. Apparently some poor folks got this dull as dirt cover, which conforms perfectly to the standard "this is literature, pal, it's supposed to be boring" template used by the Library of America, Everyman's Library, and Modern Library:

http://tinyurl.com/2f9ogob

JRSM said...

That second Modern Library cover is deeply dull. At least the movie poster is inspired by Steadman's style--and as you say, doesn't have the movie actors plastered all over it.

Craig D. said...

Ugh... I can't believe I didn't notice this before, even when looking right at the damn cover, but it does indeed have "Now a major motion picture from Universal Pictures" at the top. I guess I'm so accustomed to seeing this stamped right on the middle of the covers of books to notice it. Kind of like this unfortunate pile of waste, which I also own:

http://tinyurl.com/2493mef

In case you can't make out the text in that tiny picture (it's all I could find, and my digital camera decided to shit out on me, so I can't photo my own), it says "NOW A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE STARRING WILL SMITH!" in that offensive little emblem that ruins the terrific artwork. And it's not a sticker that can be peeled off; they went through the trouble of printing that on the cover itself.

As a sidenote, my Modern Library Fear and Loathing has this helpful little note printed on the inside of the dustjacket: "This volume is the companion to the Universal Pictures production."