Tomi Ungerer

Published August 17, 2009 by Molly

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It sounds like the beginning of a bildungsroman. Alsace-born illustrator Tomi Ungerer–a longtime friend of Maurice Sendak!–arrived in New York 53 years ago with a $60 in his pocket and a suitcase full of drawings. Thanks to the startling originality of his work, Ungerer became an instant success and released his first children’s book, “The Mellops Go Flying,” to reverent reviews in 1957. “Tomi influenced everyone,” Maurice Sendak has said. The illustrator went on to publish 80 books throughout the following decade.

But then Ungerer left America for good, and somehow his work drifted into obscurity (though the books still show up on websites selling for a mint.) Therefore it seems both long overdue and exquisitely fortuitous that Phaidon, the British publisher, is issuing new editions of Ungerer classics, including “Moon Man”, which Maurice Sendak described at the time of its original release as “easily one of the best picture books in recent years.”

Like Sendak, Ungerer has a mind for the absurd and the humorous, as well as an allergic reaction to sentimentality. He’s not afraid to dabble in darkness, and he takes the thoughts and fears of children quite seriously. His illustrations, too, are both timeless and totally unlike anything else. Here’s to the rebirth of a Sendak kindred spirit.

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3 comments so far

  1. teo says:

    i wallpapered my bathroom with pages from his book EROTOSCOPE (Taschen 2002).

  2. Molly says:

    Teo: that looks incredible! Clever idea. I want to do the same with “The Three Robbers”.

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