I have to admit I love William Steig – I think his illustrations are clever and his children’s books are charming and intelligent, particularly Shrek, Pete’s a Pizza, and Sylvester and the Magic Pebble. In truth, I have recently read Sylvester to my children and it brought me to tears – that is a much different story when you read it as an adult with children. I did not really know Steighad done much work for adults until I came across this beautifully bound and designed book. I think I was too young to have seen any of those when they were first published, and The New Yorker was never really in my cultural sphere anyways.
This book consists of loosely themed chapters of Steig’s unpublished drawings in various stages of completions, accompanied by interesting and person introductions to each set by Jeanne Steig, his last wife. These chapter introductions are really great – they don’t present Steig as a perfect person. He seems rather prickly and introverted, and it does not seem as though his marriage was an always easy. However, they do seem to show him as a person who is an observer, interesting and interested in life and with a great sense of humour. I think I am going to see if there is a more formal biography of this author and artist.
The art itself is quite varied – much of it seems to be earlier rough drafts of work that would be published (or at least submitted). While the style of drawing is recognizably his own, Jeanne Steig talks about how he experimented with colour and pattern as he moved throughout his career. Perhaps I am not a particularly observant person, but I hadn’t really noticed that progression when first browsing the book, so that was a helpful thing to have pointed out. Like many people, he seems to have more sympathy for pets than he does for their owners, although he carefully points out how many people and their pets come to resemble each other over time. This book seems to show his appreciation for the outlandish, and a certain slyness in poking fun at people and their general ridiculousness. It is just a lovely book, and I was so pleased to have run across it.