Illustrator and cartoonist Ralph Steadman is synonymous with Hunter S. Thompson’s gonzo antics and books, yet he has a huge body of work that has nothing at all to do with HST. Most of the books he illustrated (and, in some cases, wrote) in the ‘60s and pre-HST ‘70s are long out of print and, thanks to his collectibility as one of the greatest contemporary British artists, fairly expensive.
One of his first published books, after years of doing cartoons and drawings for publications like Punch and Private Eye, was a children’s book, The Little Red Computer, published in 1969 by Dobson in the U.K. (and McGraw-Hill in the U.S.), which may just be the first children’s book in literary history to feature a computer as a character. Steadman’s choice of a computer as a character was visionary, since personal computers would not be an easily recognizable common possession for over a decade. Not surprisingly, his sympathy lies with the bullied underdog, in this case a computer that doesn’t understand numbers and consequently flunks out of computer school. He is discarded in an empty field to rust, but soon the field is chosen to be the site of a rocket launch.
Kirkus Review’s brief blurb about the plot is:
He can’t add 2 and 2, but, spluttering directions to “where stars are born” and “where Knowledge can be found,” the little red computer leads the first expedition into outer space. Propelled by the little red engine.
A first edition in decent condition goes for up to $600. It was reprinted as a limited edition by Steam Press in 2004, along with the follow-up to the story, Flowers for the Moon, originally only published in German in 1974.
With the mandated anti-bullying programs in American public schools, why not reprint Ralph’s book and make it required reading? Educational art from a master and a worthy message in one colorful, charming book.
More Little Red Computer illustrations can be found here.
The art of Ralph Steadman: a savage satirist: