To be asked to review a book of Steven Appleby’s cartoons when one is already a fan is a delight. I do of course appreciate that not everyone may be a fan. It may be a bit like the Marmite test, which divides people sharply into likers and dislikers, though I find it hard to believe that anyone can dislike his work.
For those who know nothing of Steven Appleby’s work and wonder why Children Webmag should review a book of cartoons, I should explain that The Guardian has a family supplement on Saturdays, full of stories about the ways that families function – or dysfunction, as the case may be. And among these stories (usually at the top of the second page) are the Loomus cartoons.
Loomus is a small child of about primary school age. Although small, he is capable of using his computer and of putting his parents in their place. The parents seem at times to be together and at times to have separated. Steven Appleby’s cartoons show that he is a keen observer of the behaviour, mainly of children and their parents, but also of sundry other people and animals. He not only looks on the surface but at what people (and animals) are thinking underneath.
The cartoons are not just based on observation of family behaviour, though. There is a strong element of the zany, the improbable, the loony and the high fantastical, though the whimsies are often laced with a sharp undercurrent of unwelcome truths. Steven may lead you off into cloudcuckooland then bring you back to earth with a bump.
The book is called Steven Appleby’s Guide to Life and the cover shows his version of Shakespeare’s seven ages of man in the form of a clanking travelator that pushes you along from mewling and puking babyhood to piping and whistling dotage until you fall off the end. Although Loomus is a major focus, all the seven ages appear at some point in the book. At the end of the book there is a mini-autobiography in the form of why Steven Appleby draws cartoons, and how he does it. What this does not tell you is what makes him the creative person capable of thinking up new ideas every week. I only hope he can keep going. The question will be whether Loomus is a Peter Pan or an Adrian Mole: will he grow older?
The pages aren’t numbered, so I can’t point you to my favourites. You’ll just have to read the lot to find them – but actually it’s a book for dipping into, and I can recommend it as something to keep to hand for times when you are feeling bored or depressed and want a little lift.
Appleby, Steven (2012) Steven Appleby’s Guide to Life
ISBN 978-0852 653777