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“King of Cartoons” William Steig Dies

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Great, prolific New Yorker cartoonist and author of Shrek dies at 95:

    Steig combined a child’s innocent eye with idiosyncratic line to create a wonderful world of animal characters for his books and Edwardian-era dandies in his drawings.

    His 1990 book about a green monster, “Shrek!,” was made into the hit film that in 2002 became the first winner of an Oscar in the new category of best animated feature.

    In a 1997 Boston Globe interview, he said he had helped the filmmakers on the script. “I gave them some ideas, because the book takes 10 minutes to read, and the movie’s going to be 70 minutes,” he said. “I wrote out a bunch of suggestions; thinking of ideas for a movie is fun.”

    He sold his first cartoon to New Yorker editor Harold Ross in 1930 and was hired as a staff cartoonist. The magazine was still publishing his work more than 70 years later.

    He had produced more than 1,600 drawings as well as 117 covers for the magazine. A prolific author, he also wrote more than 30 children’s books, inducing Newsweek to dub him the “King of Cartoons.”

    His cartoon style evolved from the straightforward worldly children he called “Small Fry” in the 1930s to the expressionist drawings of his later years that illuminated a word or phrase.

    In the latter, clowns and princes and lovers came to life from Steig’s imagination. It was a pastoral place “where you hear plenty of laughter and only an occasional shriek of pain,” Lillian Ross once wrote.

    ….Steig was born Nov. 14, 1907, in New York, the son of a house painter and a seamstress. He began cartooning for his high school newspaper, attended City College and the National Academy of Design.

    “When I was an adolescent, Tahiti was a paradise. I made up my mind to settle there someday. I was going to be a seaman like Melville, but the Great Depression put me to work as a cartoonist to support the family,” he said.

    In the ’30s he became fascinated with Freud and psychoanalysis, and his 1942 book “The Lonely Ones” was hailed for its symbolic drawings of human neuroses. It stayed in print for 25 years.

    For many years he lived in a sprawling country house in Kent, Conn., where he took inspiration from the countryside.

    “I find it hard … to do a job on order, even if the order comes from myself,” he once said. “I go to my desk without any plans or ideas and wait there for inspiration. Which comes if you get in the right frame of mind.”

Steig’s website is here.

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