Ralph Steadman: The cartoonist who changed the face of American journalism

Updated 24th July 2015
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Ralph Steadman Vintage Dr Gonzo Hunger
Ralph Steadman: The cartoonist who changed the face of American journalism
Written by Jolyon Webber,
This article was originally published on -- the online counterpart to Hunger, Rankin's biannual fashion and culture magazine.
Ralph Steadman likes to swim first thing in the morning, but it leaves him feeling dizzy.
"I think I'm starting to feel the effects of gravity. And I've been thinking about birds, because of the new book, watching them zoom about so effortlessly. It's just made me think that gravity's a bugger really. It just seems to get worse as you get older. I've always thought that we should live the other way round -- be born old and then grow younger".
The new book is Nextinction -- his second collaboration with conservationist Ceri Levy - focusing on birds that are close to extinction, plus a few from his imagination. In conjunction with this, an exhibition at Lazarides Gallery, Printin' Backwuds, is looking at fifty years' worth of work from the cartoonists career.
On show will be over thirty rare works from his archives, including never-before-seen prints countersigned by Hunter S. Thompson and others that bear the bullet holes from the wayward gun of William Burroughs.
Steadman is happy to talk about everything and anything, other than these two things. He's digressive and funny, slightly forgetful (a disembodied voice from down the telephone line often acts as prompt) and utterly charming -- not what you night expect from the spiky, confrontational aesthetic of his work.
He is, of course, most commonly associated with Thompson, collaborating first in 1969 on 'The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved' for Scanlan's Monthly, right up until the writer's death ten years ago.
Written by Thompson "under duress" and sketched by Steadman "with eyebrow pencil and lipstick" (he forgot his pencils), it was dubbed 'Gonzo' journalism and spawned a new form of reportage.
However, over the years he's produced over twenty-five books of his own, including work on Leonardo Da Vinci, Sigmund Freud and God, as well as collaborations with former poet laureate Ted Hughes and Will Self.
"I'm a bit of a polluter really, when I think back now to the number of trees I've used up in the course of my work. It's nice to know that at least that they weren't just used as bio-wood."