Born in the town of Wallasey, the son of a shopgirl and a ladies’ clothing salesman, legendary illustrator and cartoonist Ralph Steadman was raised in North Wales after his family relocated to avoid the Blitz, the German strategic bombing of England at the outbreak of World War II. After quickly acquiring a distaste for factory work after a stint with the De Havilland Aircraft Company Chester, Steadman briefly worked at Woolworths, then moved on to a role at McConnells Advertising. In the mid-1950s, while completing his national service in the Royal Air Force, Steadman enrolled in a correspondence course taught by Percy V Bradshaw that promised, “You Too Can Learn To Draw And Earn £££s!” After selling his first cartoon to the Manchester Evening Chronicle in 1956, Steadman moved to London intent on making his fortune.
While dealing with several years’ worth of professional rejection, Steadman took courses at London College Printing and Graphic Arts College and East Ham Technical College, where he met his eventual mentor, Leslie Richardson. Under Richardson’s guidance, Steadman honed his artistic ability and, throughout the 1960s, his work appeared in publications including Private Eye and Punch.
Assigned to cover the 1970 Kentucky Derby with maverick journalist Hunter S. Thompson for Scanlan’s Monthly, the pair instead dove headlong into the drunken debauchery of the event. When Thompson’s article, “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved,” was published in June of that year, accompanied by Steadman’s manic illustrations, a new form of journalism – along with a unique creative partnership and friendship that would last decades – was born.
The pair’s collaborations – which include iconic works such as Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72, The Curse of Lono and numerous Rolling Stone articles – transported the readers into the world of alcohol-soaked, drug-addled madness that became Thompson’s calling card. And with his frenzied artistic style, Steadman’s illustrations helped to bring that world to life.
Steadman was the recipient of the Francis Williams Book Illustration Award in 1973 and the W.H. Smith Illustration Award in 1987. He was voted Illustrator of the Year by the American Institute of Graphic Arts and, in addition to his illustration work, has published numerous books of his own, including Sigmund Freud, I Leonardo, Tales of the Weirrd and The Grapes of Ralph, which won a Glenfiddich award in 1993.
In recent years, Steadman’s distinctive work has continued to resonate with a new, younger audience. His labels for Flying Dog Brewery have helped to establish the company as one of North America’s most popular craft breweries, and he recently completed the artwork for a limited edition Blu-ray release of Breaking Bad. In 2012, Steadman was the focus of For No Good Reason, a documentary that explores his creative process, his relationship with Hunter S. Thompson, and his artistic goals.
Growing up, who were your biggest creative influences?
How did Leslie Richardson help to shape your artistic style?
Taught me how to draw properly and was my dear friend!
Looking back over your career, are there any illustrations that you’re especially proud of?
LEONARDO and SIGMUND FREUD — and GOD
How much was your own writing influenced by that of Hunter S. Thompson? Perhaps along those same lines, how much of his influence do you see in modern-day journalism?
LOTS! and Journalism changed with his provocation….
Are there any contemporary artists that you particularly admire?
Do you still feel that society is capable of being changed by art?
For a while and now the World is WORSE – so YES!!!
How did the idea for For No Good Reason come about, and what was it like seeing the finished film for the first time?
Persistence of Charlie and Lucy PAUL!
What does a typical day for you look like? Do you have any sort of routine?
My routine is all over the shop! It is nearly 1pm and I haven’t done anything yet save put a sheet of paper on my Board ‘cos I have some lettering to do…..and answer these questions….
What would you like to do that you simply haven’t gotten around to yet?
Grossenheimer’s Laws of Adiabatic Masses!!!
What sort of advice would you offer to aspiring illustrators?
DO IT WITH CONVICTION!!! OK…..