Friday, December 27, 2013

The Poison Nib

In my formative years, in the early 70's I discovered the work of the English artist, Ralph Steadman in the pages of Scanlan's Monthly...A brilliant, but short lived literary/art/political magazine with very high production values. Steadman did some brilliant charicatures of NIxon and then through the magazine, he was teamed up with Hunter S. Thompson. There first, uhh, team, assignment was to cover the

The Scanlan's issue with the first collaboation
between Steadman and Thompson
Kentucky Derby. The piece, The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved, alone is harrowing enough and Steadmans illustrations are savagely brilliant, but to hear Steadman recount his experience of working with Thompson is a descent into an inferno. Steadman was relatively innocent when it came to recreational drug use. Thompson was a possessed demon and the story ends up with the pair in a small boat out at Newport News stoned on mescaline and other assorted substances attempting to paint obscene graffiti on the side of a million dollar yacht. I think they got away with one good "Fuck The Pope" before they were discovered. The story ended with a seriously deranged wet semi nude Steadman in the lobby of their hotel being restrained by the staff screaming for bloody vengeance after he discovers that Steadman has fled without paying the bill and he is without funds or means to get back to New York. It made for epic art.
Of course, if you know popular culture from this period, Steadman was reunited with Hunter S. Thompson inan episode that has become almost mythologic. He travels to Las Vegas and is the partner of Hunter S. Thompson in his journey into the very center of the demonic psyche of America and ended up creating the hallucinogenic illustrations to the piece commissioned by Rolling Stone
a page layout from Fear and Loathing, enlarge if you dare
Magazine, Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas. Did you ever see the 1998 version of the film directed by Terry Gilliam, the only human capable of attempting to transform the story into another media? Johnny Depp played Thompson and Benicio Del Toro played the character that Steadman had mutated into, the sidekick that Thompson refers to as his "lawyer". Steadman claimed that it took him years to recover from his association with Thompson, but he just got better as time went on. He has produced a massive body of work, I just picked up a nice hard cover copy of his Illustrated version of George Orwells' Animal Farm from 1995. I still think he is one of the best graphic artists working in illustration today. His depictions of Richard M. Nixon are still some of the most savage and psychologically accurate depictions of real
power  not only publically crumbling but  having a psychotic public crisis ever depicted. That is why I was so gratified to see Toronto's free alternative weekly newspaper Now Magazine. They commissioned Ralph  to draw Mayor Rob Ford for this week's cover. It's a great choice for a political year that was marked by so much fear and loathing (and an abundance of drugs). The issue also features Rob Ford's 50 stupidest quotes of 2013 (let us take a moment to admire the restraint of the Now staff in limiting themselves to a mere 50 here).  Rob Ford should feel honored to have entered into the rogues gallery of  Ralph Steadman, Steadman again proves that no one could have ever done it better!

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