Monday, 14 September 2009

Off the shelf: W Steig

This drawing, 'Ma'aruf, the poor cobbler, is tormented by Fatimah, his shrewish wife.' is by William Steig and appeared in the New Yorker in 1989, in a series called 'Scenes from the Thousand and One Nights,' introducing colour to the editorial pages of the magazine for the first time since 1926.
Steig started as a cartoonist for the New Yorker in 1930 and produced over 1600 drawings and 121 covers. In his sixties he added a new career as a children's book author and illustrator, and is perhaps most famous for the story of Shrek! He died in 2003 at the age of 95. A full biography can be found on the William Steig website.
Steig's career covered 70 years and he produced an extraordinary range of work, some of which I find difficult to appreciate, and some I like very much indeed, such as this drawing. It's scanned from 'The World of William Steig' by Lee Lorenz from 1998, which collects together the full gamut of his work. Many of his New Yorker drawings can be found at Cartoonbank.
Ma'aruf the Cobbler is one of those stories from The Thousand and One Nights that never really caught on in the West. The plot is roughly as follows: Ma'aruf escapes from his nagging wife to a faraway city where he pretends to be a wealthy merchant awaiting the arrival of his caravan of riches and is offered the daughter of the Sultan's hand in marriage. After many adventures, including being found out, the discovery of an underground chamber full of treasure, the reappearance of his nagging wife, a magic ring and Jinns galore, the invented caravan actually turns up, and they all (except the baddies) live happily ever after.

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