The Art of Ralph Steadman’s “Slightly Maniacal” Humor


It’s because of Steadman’s label illustrations that I first picked up Flying Dog’s ales, and I’ve been glad I did ever since. One of my favorites, Road Dog, had a label that said “Good beer. No censorship” when I first picked it up. I’m pretty strongly against censorship, but I thought it was an oddly incongruous message. Then it changed to “Good beer. No shit”, and I learned that this was the original statement and that it had been temporarily blocked.


Do an image search for Ralph Steadman.

Now do one for Gerald Scarfe.

Both are Poms born in 1936, Steadman is two weeks older.

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I saw this film in DC last week. It’s a REALLY well made documentary that has a style to compliment the art and artist. I recommend it to any happy mutant out there, even if you’re not familiar with his work.

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When the Bat Country Burning Man theme camp was first founded after Hunter S. Thompson passed away, the founders contacted Ralph Steadman to get permission to use some of his art as a camp logo.

He replied that rather than do that, he would draw a logo for the camp. It’s still used (on my car as I write this) and the first of the wild, crazy stories that seem to form around that camp.

Ralph Steadman seems to create talismans of weird, drawing all the strange and odd and broken and slightly dangerous closer together…


Then, as a useless afterthought, I asked if by any wild chance a Mr. Steadman had checked in… She chuckled. “You won’t have any trouble finding him. You could pick that man out of any crowd.” “Why?” I asked. “What’s wrong with him? What does he look like?” “Well…” she said, still grinning, “he’s the funniest looking thing I’ve seen in a long time. He has this…ah…this growth all over his face. As a matter of fact it’s all over his head.”

But Steadman was already in the press box when I got there, a bearded young Englishman wearing a tweed coat and RAF sunglasses. There was nothing particularly odd about him. No facial veins or clumps of bristly warts.

-from The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved. It was the first thing I ever read by Hunter S. Thompson. I read it more than twenty years after it was first published, but, having grown up in the South, it didn’t surprise me.

I see, though, that more than forty years later Mr. Steadman has shed a great deal of that growth.

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I really want to see this:

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