When Anthony Howard, then editor of the New Statesman, first asked Ralph Steadman to draw for the magazine in 1976, he couldn’t have known he would, for a time, decide to stop illustrating politicians in the mid-1980s. Throwing so much creative energy and passion into the issues that angered and inspired him “changed nothing” said Steadman: he felt that none of these “dreadful” figures deserved to be drawn by him.
Fortunately, many of Steadman’s takes on the political landscape featured in the pages of this magazine. His controversial image of the birth of Jesus, called “Maggie and Child”, depicted Margaret Thatcher, the then prime minister, as a subhuman creature holding a monstrous-looking baby. The illustration landed on the cover of the Christmas issue in 1983.
Steadman has drawn every US president in his working lifetime – apart from George Bush Snr (he’s not sure why) – and including Joe Biden for the New Statesman in 2022. He thoroughly enjoyed drawing Donald Trump in a Stars and Stripes nappy, an illustration entitled “Porky Pie”, for the magazine in 2015, a year before Trump’s election.
Is there anyone he’d like to draw now? “I’d like to see ‘The Demise of Trump’ and would enjoy picking my pen up for that – what a vile and hideous creature,” Ralph says. But Steadman remains disillusioned with global political affairs and its players, judging that his portrayal of many of them over the years as grotesque and immoral was “about right”.
Steadman continues to read the New Statesman every week, particularly enjoying its “lighter side”, which he feels is crucial. He singles out Becky Barnicoat’s cartoon strip and the images in the magazine as his personal highlights.
He’s also promised to continue sending in his thoughts on the New Statesman when he’s both “cross” and “happy” about the state of things. “I don’t see any other magazines covering these frightening times in the same way,” he says.
He’ll be keeping watch on the continued coverage of the indictments against Donald Trump and says he will let the magazine know when he’s ready for his next NS contribution, as he continues to keep his critical eye and ink pens busy.
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This article appears in the 12 Apr 2023 issue of the New Statesman, The Anniversary Issue