Creative mayhem is the undercurrent, as Ceri Levy produces a text describing the animals we’re killing; Steadman illustrates them in his inimitable Rorschach-test fashion; and the pair interact in the margins, with transcripts of phone calls, email exchanges, diary entries and random insults and jokes (‘Have you seen the Crockery Dile? It’s a teapot with teeth’).
There are detailed accounts of the habits and habitats of creatures that may or may not exist (‘Looking like the love child of a giraffe and a Brachiosaurus, the Red Wowlet roams the landscape in a continual state of amazement’), pen-portraits of the occasional human who almost certainly doesn’t (‘Dylis once threatened a whole herd of elephants with extinction if they didn’t “settle down and stop causing such a rumpus”’), and, littered throughout, fascinating glimpses of how the world looks through the eyes of genius.
Every page holds something to treasure. That sea lions resemble WC Fields is the sort of information you might expect to glean from Steadman; less expected is that walruses congregate in groups known as haul-outs, which can number thousands of animals. There’s serious stuff too, of course, with the critters most at risk from our depredations both mourned and celebrated, alongside accounts of conservation efforts that are being brought into play.
Towards the end, Steadman emails Levy a photograph of his hand, on which he spilled a bottle of ink. Levy replies: ‘It looks like you bleed ink.’ Which sums up Steadman’s life and career rather well. This is a gorgeous book, as serious as it is playful; as wildly entertaining as it is thought provoking.
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