You ask the questions

(Such as: Ralph Steadman, are you as mad as your illustrations suggest? And are you jealous of Gerald Scarfe?)
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The Independent Online

The satirical cartoonist and illustrator Ralph Steadman was born in Cheshire in 1936. After a year's apprenticeship to an aircraft engineer and working as a teaboy in an advertising agency, he published his first cartoon in the Manchester Evening Chronicle in 1956. In 1967 he published Alice in Wonderland, the first of several illustrations of other writers' works; he has also written and illustrated several of his own works. In 1970 he visited the Kentucky Derby with "gonzo journalist" Hunter S Thompson, the start of a collaboration that most famously produced the book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Steadman lives and works in Kent with his wife, Anna.

The satirical cartoonist and illustrator Ralph Steadman was born in Cheshire in 1936. After a year's apprenticeship to an aircraft engineer and working as a teaboy in an advertising agency, he published his first cartoon in the Manchester Evening Chronicle in 1956. In 1967 he published Alice in Wonderland, the first of several illustrations of other writers' works; he has also written and illustrated several of his own works. In 1970 he visited the Kentucky Derby with "gonzo journalist" Hunter S Thompson, the start of a collaboration that most famously produced the book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Steadman lives and works in Kent with his wife, Anna.

Are you in any way jealous of Gerald Scarfe? R Dunstan, London That's a rancid little question. I do what I do and he does what he does. We were a great inspiration to each other in the early days - then we went our separate ways.

What was your most scary experience with Hunter S Thompson? C Mannion, Kingston Covering the America's Cup in 1970. We'd taken a hallucinogenic called Pcylepisban. I was to be the artist and Hunter was the writer on a piece for a magazine called Scanlon. It occurred to us one night during the drunken week that it would be a good idea to write something deeply offensive on the side of a boat and embarrass the crew - all of whom were rednecks.

We went out on a dinghy, got between two boats, started shaking the spray cans - then the guards descended. Hunter said: "Oh God, we've got to flee." I was terrified; I had no idea what I was doing. Hallucinogenics don't seem to effect Hunter, but with me they gouge my mind out, tear everything out of my head. I was babbling.

So we hitched a lift on a boat back to shore and I got back to New York in a terrible state. I went into a bar on 42nd Street and borrowed a quarter from the barman to make a phone call. I rang a doctor, who told me to come straight over. By the time I got there I was purple. I was given an injection which knocked me out for 24 hours to calm me down. I came round and found the magazine had gone bust. I never took any more hallucinogenics after that.

Are you still in touch with Hunter, and on good terms? Can you describe the last time you met? P Smithers, by e-mail Last time I saw him was when we got together for our 25th anniversary. We had a big party and I dressed up as a woman and did a drag act. Hunter inflated a blow-up doll, sat her on the seat of a huge tractor, turned it on and set her boobs flying up and down to the vibrations of the engine. Then he put a propane gas cylinder on a bench, set up a video camera and shot at it from a high-velocity rifle. It exploded in the most extraordinary vicious white fireball and we watched it on film afterwards in slow motion.

I also spoke to him a few days ago - he rang to tell me about a report in the local paper. A bear had wandered on to his property in Woody Creek. He pulled out his double-barrelled shotgun and called out to his assistant, Deborah Fuller: "Stay inside - there's a bear out here." Of course, she comes rushing out just as he pulls the trigger, and ends up getting shot in the shoulder. She was rushed to hospital but released two hours later. He rang to tell me that the District Attorney is wondering whether to prosecute; I asked him how can they prosecute when there's no complaint?

I'm going to see him at the end of August - he's had a hip replacement and I'm rather keen to see how he walks.

What has been your most phenomenal cartooning moment? Matt Dyers, by e-mail It would have to be either the Kentucky Derby, when I first met Hunter - because that was the birth of gonzo journalism - or the Pattie Hearst trial in San Francisco. I was covering the trial all on my own and I saw her as a kind of Alice in Wonderland figure, surrounded by all these crazy witnesses. I did the whole thing like a scene out of Alice in Wonderland and Rolling Stone magazine ran it over 12 pages.

Are you as barking as your illustrations? N M Smith, Manchester I'm a model of sanity and decorum.

Your name is synonymous with Oddbins. Do you get a discount? M Straker, Hertfordshire My work isn't in Oddbins any more. But I had a wonderful 13 years with them trying all the best wines, all over the world - my wife, Anna, has got the diaries to prove it. I used to get the staff discount (which, by the way, was 20 per cent). But I suppose that if I went in and said, "I'm Ralph Steadman, can I have my usual discount?", they probably wouldn't complain.

What was the first cartoon you ever produced? Sarah Lewis, Cheshire It was a drawing rather like a Giles piece. It was during the Suez Canal crisis in the mid-Fifties and I did a drawing of a lazy afternoon with flies everywhere and a guy sitting there in deckchair by a lock saying "Nasser, who's he?". I was besotted with Giles in my early days. His drawings were observations of real life - the captions were never really that funny but the genius of the man was his ability to capture the commonplace: vicars in a churchyard or funny little English weddings. He caught the mood. Since then my influences have come from other places - Picasso, George Grosz, Otto Dix. And Marcel Duchamp, whose great achievement was to change the way we thought

Your cartoons are often full of what appears to be distaste for the world. Would you say you are a misanthrope? Takay, by e-mail Haven't you got some distaste? Hasn't everyone? I don't feel distaste for the world, it's what human beings do in it.

Are there any contemporary writers you admire or would like to work with? T Beeken, Doncaster I don't particularly want to work with modern novelists. But I'm doing drawings now that might require explanation. I would rather write my own words to my own pictures than do pictures for somebody else's.

Are you any relation to Alison Steadman, the famous actress? If not, would you like to be? Melanie Swinton, Cardiff I wish she was my sister - she's seems like such a lot of fun, and I'd like to have grown up with her. My real sister, bless her heart, is a little like Maggie Thatcher

You have been alive for a long while now. Which decade have you enjoyed the most? And why? PT Booker, Southampton The Seventies, because my wife and I spent a lot of time rebuilding an old place in France which we bought for £500. We'd buy 28 litres of ordinary wine made by the local co-op. It was great, it tasted perfect: wine tastes best when you're feeling pretty good, otherwise it's a depressive. We'd spend three months down there every summer with great cheeses, bread, olives and vegetables - bingo!

Do you think you fail to fit into society? Lara Wren, Croydon Absolutely. What's the point of fitting into society? That would be terribly boring. Not fitting in just means you don't want to live like other people - if you can at all help it.

Is the art of satire dead? Marion Morrisey, by e-mail Not while I am alive.

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