Tomi Ungerer: I gave a speech once years ago at a congress of psychiatrists, and my first line was that children should be traumatized. If you want to give them an identity, children should be traumatized. And I spoke, really actually, out of personal experience.
Tomi Ungerer: In New York, I found a city I'd never found; but in Ireland I found the country I always wanted.
Tomi Ungerer: I have the full respect of a piece of plain white paper. Which I then shall rape with my drawing or writing. Because when you're raped, you start a new life. This piece of paper has a new life. And when the drawing from this piece of paper is printed in a book, it has a second life. And when that book is being read, that piece of paper has a third life!
Maurice Sendak: I am a self-taught raving maniac, but not as crazy as Tomi! Or as great as Tomi. No.
Tomi Ungerer: I have nightmares every night. There's hardly a morning, where I wake up in the morning, and I haven't been arrested a few hours before.
Tomi Ungerer: As far as I can go back, I feel fear.Fear of life. And this is good because once you have fear, you have to discover courage to survive.
Tomi Ungerer: Strasbourg is the sphincter of France, and we are the first to know when France has any indigestion.
Tomi Ungerer: My father's last words were, 'Alice, come and walk with me in this beautiful garden.'
Tomi Ungerer: From that moment on, you are scared and you're worried; especially for a child. And a lot of my fears and anxieties go back to the fear of the war. I never was able to get rid of that fear. It's still haunting me after all those years. Four years under the Nazis. You cannot get rid of that. There's no way.
Tomi Ungerer: We heard about what the Germans had done in Poland. You see it was all word of mouth. We knew they were using bodies from concentration camps to make soap with. Oh yeah, the word went around... You know this is absolutely wrong if people said after the war they didn't know what was going on; because we knew about it. Not only this, we had to know about it because we were menaced by it.
Tomi Ungerer: In those days I had three identities. I was French at home, I was Alsatian in the street and German in school.
Tomi Ungerer: Within four months I had to learn German, because after that French was forbidden. You would be arrested for one 'merci'. One 'bonjour' and you would be arrested. So, I had to learn German. I found out that you can learn a language in four months if you have to. You don't need Berlitz; a knife on your throat is enough.
Tomi Ungerer: One of the very, very first homework assignments was for us to draw a Jew. I came home to my mother and said what is a Jew? She said, a guy, you know, with glasses and dark hair and a big nose and maybe a cigar or something. I drew a Jew that I had never seen.
Tomi Ungerer: I must say thanks to the talents that were given to me. I was able to record whatever I have seen using my mind and my imagination.
Tomi Ungerer: My mother taught me, when you go through trauma you have to; number one: learn to overcome your fear - and number two: if you want to survive you have to learn how to be clever.
Tomi Ungerer: The Isenheim Altar by Matthias Grunewald is absolutely, truly phenomenal. Nobody, even in modern art, I would say - not even Salvador Dali has been able to realize such a vision. In The Temptation of St. Anthony, he's there with all those monsters, which are really a little bit like the ones we have within us, and we do not even know how they look. But. it's right there. And then there is the Resurrection of Christ, which is a totally psychedelic experience. This is really my number one basis for all my art perception and influence.
Tomi Ungerer: If I look backwards, my life has been a fairytale, as I said; with all it's monsters. I think we all have many characters in ourselves. And sometimes the most important characters are we have within ourselves are our demons. Our demons lurking and ready to claw. It's very important to know one's demons. Especially after brainwashing, because what does brainwashing leave? Prejudices and demons.
Tomi Ungerer: When I work, it's the best medicine. It's great evasion. With my ideas I'm just like a dentist with all its customers fidgeting outside. All the ideas waiting and waiting like this and that.
Tomi Ungerer: February 2nd, 1945. That was the day of the liberation. It was fantastic. It was unbelievable. And then France committed, really, a cultural assassination on us. I suffered just as much under the French as they came back, because to the French we were just like 'dirty Germans.' It was forbidden to say just one word of Alsatian in school. I was fascinated with French literature, but my teacher would say, 'lose your accent before you get interested in literature'. We had this beautiful library with all the German classics, everything; Schiller, Goethe, everything. The French took them all out and burned them. You would never expect the French to come in and burn libraries; no, the Nazis do that! When you're faced with this kind of historical contradiction... what is liberation? What is fascism? What is dictatorial? And this is what I found out as a child very, very early. Everything was just absurd. The war is absurd. People are absurd. The grown-ups are absurd.
Tomi Ungerer: Culture and education are the things that have no borders.
Tomi Ungerer: I would say that in terms of drawing, Saul Steinberg is the greatest inspiration. His first book was All In Line. When I discovered that, I realized one thing; with a minimal amount of lines you would be able to bring in a whole philosophical concept. A whole thinking process which would take maybe 2 or 3 pages in a book, can be rendered in a few lines on a white piece of paper.
Tomi Ungerer: I arrived in New York with a black hat and my black coat, and some people thought I was Jewish. Some thought I was a rabbi and talked to me because I had a beard and black hat, but that's an old Alsatian tradition.
Tomi Ungerer: So what do you do when you arrive in a city, in another continent, in another world with $60 in your pocket? You know it's the land of opportunity, but how do they look; the opportunities? How do you get to them?
Maurice Sendak: There were lots of taboos in the children's book world. The concepts of children and what they felt and thought - none of it was real. We wanted them to only think of bunny rabbits and lettuce leaves and blue skies and white clouds and shit like that. It really was like a conspiracy against children, which persists. The assumption is that children are innocent, vacant and mindless. Why give them anything?
Steven Heller: There were all these weird little taboos. Tomi had already broken the taboo by drawing a snake, and Crictor got the award for best illustrated that year, opening the doors to many other snake books.
Michael Patrick Hearn: Crictor was the first of his unexpected menagerie. Tomi took probably the least cuddly animals and created picture books around them: a bat, an octopus, a kangaroo, a boa contractor - and made them lovable.
Tomi Ungerer: All those books are about animals that are normally detested or shunned upon. No, each one has something that the other doesn't have; they are able to do things which turn them into heroes. It's true for children to show them that - no matter what; you can always find success if you use what you have.
Tomi Ungerer: I think that children's books and education should give them a taste for life; even if it tastes bad. In all my children's books there's an element of fear. I always try to induce some fear in children. Why? It's very important because you have to overcome your fear. What fascinates me is the no man's land between the good and the bad. Y'know, a no man's land is actually not a place where you should kill each other, but where you can meet. And I think good can learn a lot from the bad. And bad can learn a lot from the good. Why shouldn't they have a bit of fun with each other? Excuse me - that's what life is about.
Maurice Sendak: These were all little Tomi-isms that went into my work. I learned a lot from him. I learned to be braver than I was. I think that's why Where The Wild Things Are was partly Tomi; his energy, his spirit. Would it have happened without Tomi? I don't know. Did Tomi have something to do with it? Absolutely! I'm proud of the fact that we helped change the scene in America so that children were dealt with like the intelligent little animals we know they are.
Tomi Ungerer: An idea hits you just like being hit by the lightning. I've been hit by lightning and I can tell you, it feels the same as being hit by an idea. It's like a vision.
Patrick Skene Catling: Can you think of any other children's author who would have an ogre that eats children as the hero?
Tomi Ungerer: New York was New York because New York was just like a fortress. Everybody who couldn't stand it anymore, all the people who wanted to do something; either went to San Francisco or they went to New York. So it was really a city of cultural refugees in a way. There's no other city in the world that I've loved as much as New York.
Tomi Ungerer: I was with my friend and her father was sheriff of Amarillo, Texas. And we went there for Christmas. There I realized there was such a thing in America like segregation. I was there for Christmas and he says, 'Oh, let's have now a barbecue in nigger town". Everything was segregated. You could not have taken a black man in a white restaurant! Can you imagine a European discovering segregation in America? This is inconceivable! It was just as bad as fascism. As bad as anything I had ever seen. This is something that so totally revolted me. I mean, there's no word for it. One reads about it, but to see it and realize it; that was really the trigger. And that's why I started The Underground Sketchbook.
Tomi Ungerer: It takes a lot of work to develop your talent. When I started I had a bit of a talent, and then it developed; because once you are into it, it starts growing. It's like a tree you plant, but it takes a while before it bears fruit. To have a creative spark is not enough. You have to get some gasoline for the spark to be of some use. Anger and all it's accessories is a source of inspiration.
Tomi Ungerer: 've experienced war, so that made me really allergic. It made me in a way, a pacifist up to a point. When you have something like the rise of fascism or something like this, you've got to fight it. You cannot stay there and be a pacifist. But basically, I loathe the idea of war and violence because normal people are sent into the army and taught to kill another guy who's got a mother, who's got a wife and children - and there they are killing each other. I mean, this is totally ridiculous.
Jules Feiffer: I think because he was European he developed a visual sense that told the story in one shocking hit.
Tomi Ungerer: What makes us different from the animals is erotica, is eroticism. It is really the intellectualization of one's fantasies. For me, even eroticism is an artistic expression. One's erotic life develops with one's imagination. Eroticism is sex with fantasy. You just do all the things, you just... you stage. It's a form of liberation.
Steven Heller: When Tomi was doing the children's books and doing the Underground Sketchbook and Fornicon, he was taking a big chance because he was breaking from type.
Maurice Sendak: It was very unusual for a children's book author to be doing so mashy different things. The political posters, the erotica... those beautiful, sumptuous albums of naked people being tortured.
Maurice Sendak: Who could not love it? He felt free. He didn't feel confined.
Tomi Ungerer: I am full of contradictions, and why shouldn't I be? Without contradictions I'd be jobless. I'd have nothing to think about.
Tomi Ungerer: The sexual revolution is - you can do anything you want as long as you don't hurt anyone! I mean, why should people be condemned by society for doing this and for doing that? The freedom for eroticism is really something I fought for. For Americans there was really a conflict between the erotic and the children's book world. It's still really impregnated with this Anglo-Saxon hypocrisy. But I never gave it a second thought. I had other things to do.