Steadman was born in Wallasey, Cheshire, and brought up in Abergele, North Wales. From a lower middle class background, his father was a commercial traveller and his mother was a shop assistant. at T J Hughes in Liverpool. Steadman attended East Ham Technical College and the London College of Printing during the 1960s, doing freelance work for Punch, Private Eye, the Daily Telegraph, The New York Times and Rolling Stone during this time. Steadman currently lives with his wife in Kent, England.
Steadman is renowned for his political and social caricatures, cartoons and picture books. Awards that he has won for his work include the Francis Williams Book Illustration Award for Alice in Wonderland, the American Society of Illustrators’ Certificate of Merit, the W H Smith Illustration Award for I Leonardo, the Dutch Silver Paintbrush Award for Inspector Mouse, the Italian Critica in Erba Prize for That’s My Dad, the BBC Design Award for postage stamps, the Black Humour Award in France, and several Designers and Art Directors Association Awards. He was voted Illustrator of the Year by the American Institute of Graphic Arts in 1979.
Steadman had a long partnership with the American journalist Hunter S. Thompson, drawing pictures for several of his articles and books. He accompanied Thompson to the Kentucky Derby for an article for the magazine Scanlan’s, to the Honolulu Marathon for the magazine Running, and illustrated both Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72. Much of Steadman’s artwork revolves around Raoul Duke-style caricatures of Thompson: bucket hats, cigarette holder and aviator sunglasses.
Steadman appears on the second disc of The Criterion Collection Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas DVD set, in a documentary called Fear and Loathing in Gonzovision, which was made by the BBC in 1978, of Thompson planning the tower and cannon that his ashes were later blasted out of. The cannon was atop a 153-ft. tower of Thompson’s fist gripping a peyote button; Thompson demands that Steadman gives the fist two thumbs, “Right now.”
As well as writing and illustrating his own books and Thompson’s, Steadman has worked with writers including Ted Hughes, Adrian Mitchell and Brian Patten, and also illustrated editions of Alice in Wonderland, Treasure Island, Animal Farm, the English translation of Flann O’Brien’s Gaelic-language classic The Poor Mouth, and most recently, Fahrenheit 451.
Among the British public, Steadman is well known for his illustrations for the catalogues of the off-licence chain Oddbins and he designed a set of four British postage stamps to commemorate the appearance of Halley’s Comet in 1985. He also designed the labels for Flying Dog beer and Cardinal “Spiced” Zin’ wine, which was banned in Ohio for Steadman’s “disturbing” interpretation of a Catholic cardinal on its label.
Steadman also illustrated Will Self’s column in The Independent newspaper. Hal Willner and Johnny Depp’s anthology of songs, Rogue’s Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs, and Chanteys (2006) contains two contributions from Steadman; he sings lead on “Little Boy Billee”, and sings backing vocals on Eliza Carthy’s song “Rolling Sea”.
In 2011, Steadman began running prose and poetry in Kotori Magazine.
He also contributed to the BirdLife International’s Preventing Extinctions programme with an image of critically endangered Northern Bald Ibis.
A major documentary about Steadman’s career, For No Good Reason, directed by Charlie Paul, played at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival in the “Mavericks” programme. The film, reportedly 15 years in the making, played in New York City and Los Angeles in December 2013, and is set for a regular US domestic release in Spring 2014. The film was in competition for the Grierson Award for Best Documentary at the 2012 BFI London Film Festival.