Ralph Steadman Leaves His Mark

Interview

Friday, August 08, 2014

Original cover art for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson Original cover art for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson (Painting by Ralph Steadman, Courtesy of Ralph Steadman/Sony Pictures Classics)

In 1970, when Ralph Steadman was a 33-year-old unknown artist fresh off the boat from England, Scanlan’s Magazine offered him an assignment that would change his life: to accompany a writer named Hunter S. Thompson to the Kentucky Derby. Their escapades became Thompson’s article “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved.” That piece, a landmark of the New Journalism, was the first in a long line of collaborations that would come to define both men’s careers.

With works like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, '72, Thompson and Steadman invented a new style of journalism called Gonzo: “You go to cover a story, ostensibly,” he explains. “But, in fact, you don’t cover the story, you become the story.”

While it was Thompson who often took center stage in his own stories, there could be no Gonzo without Steadman’s violently splattered, beautifully twisted illustrations. “It’s the trademark, if you will,” Steadman tells Kurt Andersen. “It’s more memorable when you’ve got something to refer to.”

Steadman was born in Wales and didn’t begin drawing until he came across a newspaper ad for a correspondence course. Upon finishing, Steadman moved to London, where he was offered a job as a cartoonist in an editorial office. As for his trademark splatter style, Steadman tells Kurt exactly where that came from: “clumsiness.”

Steadman is the subject of a new documentary, For No Good Reason, which comes out on DVD September 2.

Kurt Andersen by Ralph Steadman (click on the images to view larger).
    Music Playlist
  1. Easy Rider
    Artist: Big Brother & The Holding Company
    Album: Big Brother & The Holding Company
    Label: Columbia/Legacy
    Purchase: Amazon
  2. No Good Reason
    Artist: Born Again
    Album: Born Again Pagan
    Label: Shadoks Music

Guests:

Ralph Steadman

Produced by:

Julia Lowrie Henderson

Comments [1]

Linda Franklin from Baltimore, MD

I worked at Scanlan's magazine, the "muckraking" wunder rag, for a few months as a receptionist. I sat at the top of the steep stairs in from the street, and will never forget the excitement and noise when Hunter Thompson and Ralph Steadman came barging up the stairs and on into the crowded "office" to greet their friends. It was quite a thrill. I got up from my desk to go into the room where everyone was talking, and when I got back to my desk, a thief had crept up the stairs, taken my purse, and run off with it. Some of the things that were inside it were found in a garbage can on the corner (imagine! a neat thief!), but it was those two visitors who made my day. This was wonderful to see the video and watch Steadman work. I even buy Flying Dog beer just to get those wonderful Steadman drawings!

Aug. 12 2014 10:13 AM

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