Steven Appleby: Wonky lines,wobbly lettering

Letter Exchange talk 14 January 2015


This review first appeared on the Letter Exchange website


A cold January evening was warmed by the wit and charm of cartoonist and illustrator Steven Appleby. He describes himself as an absurdist and the work he creates is indeed absurd. But I also found it quite real and everyday reflecting humanity in all its ridiculousness.


A nude man found lying face down on a Saab – an idea that came to Steven on the way to buy some milk from the corner shop – is strangely believable, particularly the trite comments of the onlookers. This was typical of many of the cartoons he showed us, wry, sideways views of the (almost) everyday.


Ideas come to Steven primarily as words and phrases that he then illustrates. The accompanying text in his familiar ‘shaky’ handwriting is an integral part of the work as with Snow people discover fire and become extinct on the same day. In one example from a cartoon strip in the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, it was easy to see where a German translator’s lettering had been used, the cartoon had lost an integral part of its character.


Steven’s talk was a constant stream of brilliant ideas, funny, thought-provoking, often both. His Icebergs poster for example, so simple, so profound, the composition beautifully controlled and rendered with a deceptively sophisticated line. In the question and answer session after the talk Steven explained how his drawing style developed under the watchful eye of Quentin Blake, his tutor at the RCA.


Even in 3d and the moving image, the ideas kept coming. A trailer for the Bradford Animation Festival features a Reality controller which is nothing short of genius. You can see it here.


I feel like I have only just scratched the surface of the wealth of brilliant material Steven showed us accompanied throughout by a chorus of giggles, titters, and laughs. His gentle wit and perceptive imagination were warmly appreciated by all present.


On a more serious note, Steven told me afterwards that he’d produced a drawing in response to the previous week’s massacre at the offices of Charlie Hebdo and with hindsight, he felt he should have included it in the talk. We agreed that I would include it as part of this review…