Ralph Steadman was born in Wallasey, Cheshire on 15 May 1936, the son of a commercial traveller. He was educated at Abergele Grammar School, North Wales and first worked as a trainee manager with F W Woolworth at Colwyn Bay. An apprentice aircraft engineer with the De Havilland Aircraft Company (from 1950), he served in the Royal Air Force between 1954 and 1956. During his time at Kelmsley Newspapers (1959-61), he took courses with East Ham Technical College (1959-66), the London College of Printing (1961-5) and Percy Bradshaw’s Press Art School. He has been much influenced by the power of modern German caricaturists - such as George Grosz and John Heartfield - and the line of his English master, Ronald Searle. Turning freelance in 1961, Steadman drew political cartoons for the newly-founded Private Eye and began to contribute to the Daily Telegraph, Punch and Rolling Stone.
He worked under his current signature from 1967, when he became Artist-in-Residence at Sussex University. In the seventies, he worked for The Times (1970-1), the New Statesman (1976-80) and for the National Theatre (1977). He became much inspired by the author Hunter S Thompson, and together they embarked upon a series of collaborations, beginning with Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1972); this culminated in his being voted Illustrator of the Year by the American Institute of Graphic Arts (1979). The strength of Steadman’s graphic style allowed him to meet famous illustrators on their own ground. His version of Alice in Wonderland (1967) is one of the few to compete successfully with John Tenniel’s immortal images and won him the Francis Williams Book Illustration Award in 1973. Similarly, his recent cover drawing to commemorate the hundred and fiftieth anniversary of Punch is a violent reworking of Richard Doyle’s design. This work has encouraged Steadman to confront such totems as Sigmund Freud (1979), Leonardo da Vinci (I, Leonardo) (1983) and God (The Big I Am) (1988).