In France, he was best known for his albums youth, classic – The Three Thieves , Jean de la Lune , The Giant of Zeralda – books that have made their mark and disrupted the codes of children’s literature. “The albums are to give children the taste of life even if it is bitter,” he told the Figaro in 2015. The draftsman Tomi Ungerer died in the night from Friday to Saturday, in Cork, Ireland, at the age of 87 years. Protean artist, he didn’t care about the borders between genres, juggling languages and has left a deep imprint in the graphic arts with not less than 140 books published under his name.
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“we need to traumatize children so that they have an identity”
seven years, the little John-Thomas, said Tomi, becomes the young Hans-Thomas. The Germans annexed the Alsace. Prohibition is made to speak French. A neighbour denounces the Ungerer, who speak it at home. His mother, “chauvinistic and anti-German”, convened at the Command, goes there with her four children and explained to the officer that the Germans will be in dire straits when they have finished winning the war if no one speaks in French to make himself understood by the defeated people. The officer, stunned by this beautiful “partisan”, allows them to continue to converse in the language of Molière. “She wasn’t afraid of nothing,” remembered his son, who has inherited a way of temerity, of a style much more and a prankster. His father, a manufacturer of astronomical clocks, and artist, who died of septicaemia when he was three years old, he said: “He bequeathed to me all his talents.”
This childhood, marked by the tragic disappearance of the father, and the war, remained alive in him: “When I write, I answer a waiting child that I was,” he pointed out before to recall this phrase, a landmark that he spoke at a convention: “It is necessary to traumatize children so that they have an identity.” This does not, in his books, to be the winners: Tiffany tames the robbers and Zeralda puts the ogre in his pocket.
A style iconoclast
Tomi Ungerer, who accepted difficult the established codes, never poured into a mold. “Perhaps it is for this reason that I désarçonne here. I change my style all the time. However, the French are not comfortable with it. We can not say of one of my drawings, “This is the Ungerer” as we say, “This is the Sempé”! Me, I love Sempé, but I couldn’t always draw the same thing.”
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His style? It should already be able to set it through the six thousand drawings he donated to the Museum Ungerer of Strasbourg, or through multifaceted works that mixes fairy tales for children, advertising of the american golden age, collections of aphorisms in German, English and French, the three languages that he masters perfectly, or even the erotic books (a quarter of its production!). Because Tomi Ungerer was a children’s author and a poet of eroticism. That’s still a feature that has blurred the tracks as the two passions may seem clivantes.
this spirit permanently free can arise the most beautiful pages of children’s literature: “During this time, Jean of the Moon, tasted the joy of being free. In the quiet of the nights he spent among the flowers and the birds for hours wonderful. On the full moon following, he was full of his form” and the stripper Fornicon , a satire of the sex mechanics which led to all his books to be banned for more than thirty years in the United States.
Young French cheeky
“I change my style all the time. However, the French are not comfortable with it”
yet It is the United States that have revealed Ungerer in the world. He arrived there in 1956, a young French cheeky, fascinated by the master Saul Steinberg and fed catalog Sears Robuck, he compulsait after the war at the american Center of Strasbourg. From the outset, Unger appeals to the agencies of creation of advertising of Manhattan as the high priestess of the edition child. It offers a children’s album, the story of little pigs and a butcher. She suggests him to come back with something less cruel. The Mellops make the plane will win a prize. The following also, in which he rehabilitates the animals that one sees, then, usually not in a book for children: the vulture, the octopus, the boa, the bat.
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In 1958, when appears Crictor , a debate agitates the jury prize for the best album of the year at the New York Times : can we award it to a book for children who sing the praises of the snake? Crictor will win. “Books of rehabilitation, I know what stigma means. In rehabilitating myself, I réhabilitais me-even as if these animals had also been the focus of alsace”, we explained it by reference to another trauma of youth: the prohibition made to the people of Alsace speak their language after the war. Since 1961, all of his books for children are written in English before being translated into French.