If you can name any children's illustrator (name - I'll bet "Dr. Seuss" wasn't on his driver's license)
chances are good it's this one, having made his indelible, scribbly
markings on the collective minds of generations of new and seasoned readers alike.
Born in 1932, he always knew that drawing was what he wanted to do but didn't realise until the '40s that a living could also be made at it - getting early work sporadically bought and printed by publications such as Punch by the time he was 16, baffled by the cheques he received in return (not yet having a bank account.)
He never went to art school, retaining a very child-like (though far from childish) feel to his work though despite this gap in his training he would eventually go on to be the head of the Royal College of Art's Illustration department for ten years, where he taught adults to draw though a child's eyes.
His instantly engaging doodly style of "wonderfully mischievous scratchy pictures", bursting with pointy teeth for escaped zoo animals, moles and blemishes by the bucketload for nasty characters and soulful potato noses on solid, earthy friendly folk is instantly memorable; Joanna Carey of The Guardian said it was like "the familiar handwriting of a friend (which) all children find easy to recognise."
One reason his lines might invoke instant association might be the mere subconscious feel for them after having been exposed to dozens and dozens and dozens of his works - his drawings have appeared in well over 200 books to present, working with author upon author and for a variety of audiences; still, his pictures are forever associated primarily in partnership with kid-lit titan Roald Dahl, who he worked with from 1975 up until Dahl's death in 1990.
That may seem to the bean-counters in the audience to total a mere 15 years, but it's surprising what can be accomplished in a decade-in-a-half - a period of team-up leaving Dahl and Blake described as "the Lennon and McCartney of children's literature." Canonical works of Dahl's Quentin Blake ended up illustrating (many of them sold, no doubt, on the merits of his horrific, fantastical and eye-grabbing cover illustrations) include:
One reason for the longstanding nature of the collaboration is the undeniable simultaneous grounded-here but larger-than-life-silly
feel to Dahl's books: "There's something magical... I like them because although the characters are very unreal
, they're strangely true to life
as well. For example, the awful people are much more horrible than real people
- yet rather like them too!"
Though he'll forever be remembered in association with Roald Dahl, he's also written many books of his own (for which he illustrated himself) including:
Finally, to cement his position in the pantheon of children's literature, he also worked with Dr. Seuss
contributing illustrations for Seuss' A Great Day for Up!
His longstanding contributions to the genre were recognized in 1999 by the most peerless judges around - a poll of English schoolchildren - in being elected the first Children's Laureate
- "awarded to an eminent
living British writer or illustrator of children's books both to celebrate a lifetime's achievement and to spotlight the role of children's book creators in making the readers of the future."
(I always regretted not describing him the first time around as the Ralph Steadman of the pre-school set, and so I have remedied that.)