Jump to main content

This exhibition space is part of the EFG London Jazz Festival. Return to the Festival site

Ralph Steadman

Ralph Steadman was born in 1936 in the Merseyside area of Wallasey, and was raised in the North Wales town of Abergele.

His childhood hobby was model aircraft construction and his first job after leaving school was as a radar operator at the De Havilland aircraft factory - and though he disliked factory life and soon left, those two experiences had tapped an early talent for technical drawing, the skill that put him on the road to what has become a six-decade international career as a cartoonist, illustrator, and painter.

View the covers

Explore Ralph’s covers for Esquire Records using the carousel below and compare covers by clicking the UK/US buttons beneath each cover.

UK version US version More Info

Steadman completed his National Service in 1954, and also studied Percy V Bradshaw's Press Art School correspondence course, a long-established illustrator's curriculum which had included the visionary eccentric Heath Robinson among its consultants.

Ralph Steadman's first cartoon was published in the Manchester Evening Chronicle in 1956, he learned life-drawing techniques from the inspirational Leslie Richardson at East Ham Technical College, and made his first appearance in Punch magazine in 1960 - a period in which he was also contributing eye-catching cover designs to small record labels, including Carlo Krahmer's Esquire.

In the 1960s, with his work increasingly revealing the provocative influences of such innovators as George Grosz and John Heartfield, Steadman worked for the newly-launched Private Eye, and for New Society, Radio Times, Town, New Musical Express and the Daily Telegraph, and won the Frances Williams Award or his distinctive reworking of 'Alice in Wonderland'.

In 1970, he began a lifelong collaboration with the unique American journalist and author Hunter S Thompson, initially on a savagely hilarious report from the Kentucky Derby for Scanlan's Monthly, and then on a series of collaborations including 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas', 'Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72', and 'The Curse of Lono'.

Steadman went on to produce his own books on subjects from Sigmund Freud to Leonardo da Vinci, was hired in 1987 to illustrate the catalogues of the Oddbins off-licence chain (a commission that would produce hundreds of artworks), designed theatre sets for companies including the Royal Opera House, and since 2012 has worked with film-maker and conservationist Ceri Levy on a series of books ('Extinct Boids', 'Nextinction', and 'Critical Critters') about extinct and endangered birds and animals.

He has also illustrated a DVD box set for the cult series 'Breaking Bad', and continues to contribute to the New Statesman, The Independent and the New York Observer.

An illustrated memoir, ‘Ralph Steadman: A Life In Ink’

Published by Chronicle Books in November 2020.

Learn more about the book

The Esquire Cover Club presents in partnership with

EFG London Jazz Festival partners