When the renowned cartoonist Ralph Steadman was asked to produce a piece for a recent exhibition of bird art, he got slightly carried away – it did, after all, make a nice change from politicians. He allowed his imagination to run wild and, an astonishing 100 paintings later, Ralph Steadman's Extinct Boids was born ...These remarkable pieces of art include Steadman's unique interpretations of well-known birds such as the great auk and dodo, along with less familiar members of the avian firmament – snail-eating coua, for example – and a handful of bizarre creations such as the gob swallow, the nasty tern and needless smut, all with a riot of colour and a slice of trademark Steadman humour.
Ralph Steadman is a world-renowned cartoonist and caricaturist, and one of Britain's finest and best-loved artists. Originally labelled a 'gonzo' artist, he first burst onto the national consciousness by providing the illustrations for Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Since the 1960s he has worked on projects as diverse as Private Eye and Punch, illustrations for collections of poetry by Ted Hughes, Alice in Wonderland and Animal Farm, and the Royal Mail – Steadman designed a set of stamps. Alongside a host of illustration credits, Steadman's previous books include Gonzo – The Art (Harcourt Brace, 1998), Doodaaa: The Balletic Art of Gavin Twinge (Bloomsbury, 2003) and The Joke's Over (Heinemann, 2006).
"Not since Adam named the beasts [...] has anyone so enriched the language of ornithology as Mr. Steadman and his co-author, Ceri Levy, in Extinct Boids"
– New York Times
"A characteristically madcap and often very funny voyage through the dark tale of extinction"
– Stephen Moss, Daily Mail
"While Steadman gives us paintings of the dodo, the great auk and other familiar lost species in burning, unforgettable colours, we also find the nasty tern, the wizened twit, the dickie bird, the jail bird, and the lesser Peruvian blue-beaked blotswerve. The film-maker and conservationist Ceri Levy anchors it all in sanity with an appealing running commentary."
– Michael McCarthy, The Independent
"Every turn of the page reveals a bird brought to life in Steadman's inimitable style."
– New Scientist
"Ralph's remarkable paintings [...] pay a tribute to some of the most beautiful creatures ever to have lived."
– The Lady
"Each species is splashed across the page in Steadman's unique style, accompanied by a witty and informative commentary by Levy"
– The Guardian
"The illustrator Ralph Steadman has used his weird imagination to conjure up colourful, faded feathered friends."
– Leicester Mercury
"The national treasure that is Ralph Steadman utilises his trademark cartoon-style to document those "ghost birds" whose demise stands as an indictment of mankind's destructive tendencies."
– Sunday Express
"A riotous flight of imagination with a serious message"
"You will know the sad fate of the famous flightless dodo. And you might have heard the chilling story of how the last known pair of great auks met their untimely demise as a result of collectors' greed. Less familiar, perhaps, are the tales of the needless smut and the blue piddle.
Extinct Boids is a wonderful collection of drawings of birds that once lived on Earth, alongside some living only in the imagination. Last year, when film-maker Ceri Levy held an exhibition of artworks portraying extinct birds, he asked artist and political cartoonist Ralph Steadman to contribute a painting. "I was asked for one and I did a hundred," Steadman told New Scientist. He has been drawing birds ever since.
Every turn of the page reveals a bird brought to life in Steadman's inimitable style. Some are invented out of necessity – no one knows what the double-banded argus looked like, for instance, because all that remains is a single feather. Others are wholly imagined.
Accompanying each image is Levy's commentary, which describes how each bird met its eventual end. The made-up creatures are not excluded: there are humorous descriptions of their personalities, pastimes and the role they play on Toadstool Island – a place where Levy and Steadman imagine all the extinct and invented birds now live.
Levy and Steadman hope their book of birds – or boids – will introduce the idea of avian extinction to a new audience. Steadman says the project has changed him, making him something of a bird enthusiast. "I used to be rather balanced, but now I've become rather bird-like," he jokes."
– Jessica Hamzelou, New Scientist, 21 November 2012
"Ralph Steadman is famous. His artwork for Hunter S Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas brought him to the attention of many in the early 1970s. His work has appeared in Punch, Private Eye, many UK newspapers, the New York Times and has illustrated books by Ted Hughes, Jonny Depp and Will Self. Robert Gillmor or Bruce Pearson he is not!
So what does Steadman bring to a book about extinct birds? He brings pizzazz!
This is essentially a picture-book. Not that there is anything wrong with Ceri Levy's words of information or examples of the correspondence between the two authors, but the words are relatively few and rather small on the page whereas the drawings leap out at you.
Well-known, and perhaps much-missed, extinct birds such as the passenger pigeon, great auk and dodo all get the Steadman treatment, alongside many less well-known fellow past-inhabitants of this planet. The white-winged sandpiper, bishop's o’o and kakawahie were all new to me.
Sprinkled amongst these real birds were some that I suspect may not be quite so real, such as the masty tern, jail bird and white-winged gonner. I have to admit there were a few species where I had to check whether they were real or not – but I'm not going to say which
The idea of bringing wit and beauty to an essentially depressing subject – extinction – is a good one. This book reminds me of the current trend at sporting occasions to mark the passing of a famous sportsperson with a round of applause rather than a minute's silence. These birds don't need our mournful respect – what good will that do them? Their surviving fellow species of bird, around 10% of whom are threatened with extinction, need our urgent attention. If we succeed then there will not need to be an accompanying or updated volume.
A proportion (they don't say what proportion) of the money from the sales of this book will aid conservation by Birdlife International partners."
– Mark Avery, British Wildlife 24(2), December 2012