When I was visiting my parents recently, I pulled The Steig Album off their bookshelves. My father bought this book when he was a student at Alfred University in upstate New York. He said Steig was popular with his colleagues in the 50s.
What surprised me most about the images in this book was how different the majority of them are to the work we know from his later children’s books, some of which Julie Paschkis mentioned in her post Ode To Steig.
His earlier work was darker, often presenting a sardonic look at human nature, like these drawings from “About People.”
His depiction of relationships is accurate and insightful, but hardly flattering, like his section, “Till Death Do Us Part: Some Ballet Notes on Marriage.”
You get the feeling from this book that Steig understands every aspect and conundrum of human existence –
– and had little patience with us.
But the humor was always there.
Steig’s many drawings of children indicate his keen eye for capturing moments of juvenile inquisitiveness and camaraderie. These cartoons appeared in The New Yorker in the 40s.
He underscored the pain, frustration, and anxieties of childhood as well, as in these pieces from the section, “The Agony In The Kindergarten.”
Steig didn’t begin to write children’s books until he was 61. His first children’s book was published in 1968. Somewhere in his first six decades, I think he softened a little.
My daughters loved the Dr. De Soto books, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, Abel’s Island. Another of our family favorites was The Flying Latke, by Arthur Yorinks. Steig created the background illustrations for this wacky holiday book, and played a cameo role as the newscaster in the story. The book came out in 1999. He was ninety-two.
Long live William Steig.