William Feaver

Very trying indeed

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Ralph Steadman

Bloomsbury, pp. 333, £

Ralph Steadman has always employed graphic spatter. The pen jabs, the ink spurts and - yoiks! - how the victims suffer. Eyes popping, they retch, they convulse, they become pinstriped roadkill. The projectile handling has extended from cartoons to illustrations (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) to caricature-biographies of Sigmund Freud and Leonardo da Vinci. In Doodaaa the spatter hits the fan.

A 'Triography' he calls it, meaning, I guess, a 'Try-anything-once'. My, how he tries. He begins with drinks-all-round acknowledgments and several preambles before introducing the reader to his alter ego 'Gavin Twinge', a name with a Goon Show ring to it, a narrative conceit that one might have expected to find in the late Spike Milligan's wastepaper basket.

Steadman has reason to stress every stress. He is, after all, a cartoonist, driven to exaggerate. But Doodaaa is blitheringly, relentlessly 'hilarious', a 333-page incontinence pad. The idea is to have a jolly good go at the idiotic excesses of those young whippersnappers, the so-called Britartists, whose feats of confessional embroidery and animal mutilation have received such publicity over the past ten years. Steadman-Twinge props up the bar (the Chelsea Arts Club, I guess) and bangs on about the best things in life ('found a gorgeous little auberge, Le Blague'), and the worst.

Being an arty type he takes pleasure in simple anal bad-mouthing ('Tite Modern') and has fun, of course, with British attitudes ('being masters of trivia and island parochialism the English don't like art, I reckon') and French civilisation. Such a funny language, French, e.g. 'sphincter au gratin'.

The aim is to be wildly aphoristic. ('Trying to bugger a pig on a settee while you're watching The Barretts of Wimpole Street with French subtitles does seem a tad incongruous, even indecent.') But as the half-tone illustrations make all too clear, funny names attached to old photos and fanciful pastiches are no joke, not when the originality lags so far behind. Nor are the jokes jokes, not except in an ooh, you are awful sense. ('