Tomi Ungerer, Brash Illustrator for Young and Older, Dies at 87 | Modern Society of USA

Tomi Ungerer, Brash Illustrator for Young and Older, Dies at 87

Tomi Ungerer, Brash Illustrator for Young and Older, Dies at 87

Tomi Ungerer, an acclaimed illustrator and author who brought a scampish style to children’s books and whose wide-ranging career also took him into advertising, protest art and erotica, died on Friday in Cork, Ireland. He was 87.

His death was announced on his website.

Mr. Ungerer burst onto the children’s-book scene in 1957 with “The Mellops Go Flying,” the first of a series of books he would write and illustrate about a family of pigs prone to going on adventures and getting into predicaments. (In the first book, they build an airplane, which crashes when it runs out of fuel, and that’s only the beginning of the tale.)

The Mellops books and others, with their quirky stories and simple but idiosyncratic drawings, stood out in the often uninspiring world of children’s books. Yet Mr. Ungerer, born in Europe but living in the United States, was soon also turning his artistic talents to more adult themes, in works like “The Underground Sketchbook of Tomi Ungerer” (1964), which was full of humorous, suggestive drawings.

As the Vietnam War became the dominant political issue of the day, he made posters with an antiwar theme; one, from 1967, showed the Statue of Liberty being crammed down the throat of a yellow figure. And, especially after the publication in 1969 of his “Fornicon,” a book of comical but startling sexual imagery, he found himself unwelcome in children’s-book circles.

Within a few years came a whole different level of hate as the Nazis overran the region. They tried to indoctrinate the region’s youths, forcing them to speak German.

“It was total, systematic brainwashing every day,” Mr. Ungerer said.

Drawing was among the coping mechanisms that got him through the war years. But the return of French control when World War II ended in 1945 brought its own problems: Some viewed the people in his region as Nazi sympathizers or collaborators. Again, Mr. Ungerer had a sense of not belonging, on which he would later draw in his children’s books.

“I know how it feels to be different,” he said in an interview last year with Print magazine, “and I must say that all the children’s books I did after that were all actually ostracized animals. I did one about the rats, about a chauve-souris — a bat — about a vulture.” One of his best-loved children’s books, “Crictor” (1958), had a boa constrictor as the main character.

Mr. Ungerer joined the French Camel Corps in 1952 but was discharged the next year because of illness. He then attended the Municipal School of Decorative Arts in Strasbourg for a year, after which he spent time traveling around Europe. In 1956, with $60 in his pocket, he went to New York and began shopping his services as an illustrator. He also peddled his children’s-book ideas.

“The children’s books in those days where ghastly,” he told Print — tame and unimaginative. He went to see the biggest publisher in the field, Golden Books, where an editor was uninterested in his ideas but also honest.

He sought her out, and she did indeed publish him — and, later, his friends Shel Silverstein and Maurice Sendak.

“Tomi influenced everybody,” Mr. Sendak told The Times in 2008.

Mr. Ungerer also created illustrations for advertisements, including, in the early and middle 1960s, a series of posters for The Times. And when he sought to make a trip to China, he came to the attention of the authorities. He often told the story of being snatched by three shadowy men as he walked through Idlewild Airport in Queens in 1960 and being whisked away for an interrogation.

“I had to undress, even open up the soles of my shoes because they were looking for hidden messages or something,” he said.

Not much came of the incident, but his antiwar posters and erotica gave him a notoriety that cost him work and, in 1970, led him to move to Canada. In 1976 he relocated to Ireland.

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