Tomi Ungerer (1931-2019) is renowned for his iconic advertising campaigns, his political posters, and his children’s books.
“‘Expect the unexpected’ is a fitting description of all of Tomi’s posters. The element of surprise, the element of the absurd, is a clear constant in his posters. When Tomi is finished with a poster design, he will step back a bit, and if he’s really satisfied with what he’s done, he’ll say, ‘It’s absurd!’
This very absurdity, achieved by elements of surprise and exaggeration, makes for a good poster: one of the key elements of a good poster is that it be arresting, that it be immediately compelling. This propensity for gleefully combining the improbable with the absurd is carried through in all of Tomi’s works, including his best-known works, his children’s books. His style—his broad strokes, bright colors, exaggeration, his drive to the heart of an idea, are all essentials of the poster style.”
-From The Poster Art of Tomi Ungerer, edited by Jack Rennert
Teetering on the line between his adorable children’s book illustrations and some of his more titillating designs for humorous erotica, this poster promotes the now-closed Truc boutique in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Specializing in wildly-scented soaps and hippie-dippy aromatherapy products, it enjoyed thinking that its wares were beyond the imagination of the common man.
Tomi created a series of six posters for the Electric Circus in late 1969, all on the theme of “The ultimate legal experience.” However, many stores in the United States refused to handle them and many foreign distributors were dissuaded by customs official from importing them. Tomi did a single poster for Tom Williams, the art director of all these, to announce that henceforth girls without brassieres would be admitted free every Sunday.
Located in New York’s Greenwich Village, the Electric Circus was America’s leading Rock Palace. Young people flocked to the Circus to dance to live and recorded music by their favorite rock groups. The cavern setting was a psychedelic continuous light show. It closed in July, 1971.
Grove Press publisher Barney Rosset began Evergreen Review in 1957 as a literary quarterly featuring the likes of Sartre, Camus, and Beckett, as well as American poets Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Jack Kerouac. By 1966, the publication had increased its frequency and become a voice of political iconoclasm, so graphic designer John Alcorn refreshed its look, dropping “review” from the title in the process. Heralding the redesign was a new advertising campaign: “Join The Underground.” Tomi designed this poster to promote the February 1967 issue: a coolie-hatted image of Uncle Sam, sunk in the quagmire of Vietnam, and displeased with the face he presents to the mirror.
In 1969, Darien House asked Tomi to create a series of posters to decorate a child’s room. He made 12 images in total that were printed between 1969-1971. Despite depicting well-loved fairy tales, many believed the images to be too frightening for children—though the Grimm Brothers would probably think that they’re right on target. These seven posters illuminate Tomi’s provocative artistic vision: he combines the ominous and the delightful, and the ridiculous and the serene, to create truly enchanting images.
As part of its program to encourage young people to enter careers in the health and hospital field, the American Hospital Association sent health-careers kits to schools, hospitals, and health groups across the United States. In 1969, Tomi was commissioned to design the materials for this kit, which included posters, postcards, tray favors, and wall folders. The poster, which had a printing of over 100,000 copies, was to be hung on elementary school and library walls.
Tomi always carried a small sketchbook with him, and for the most part, was reluctant to show his sketches and “ideas” to anyone. But in 1964, after enough people had seen them to give them an “underground” reputation, Viking Press asked Tomi for the right to publish these. This poster was first distributed in bookstores to publicize the book and subsequently reproduced and distributed by Darien House. Though the book received mixed reviews, Newsweek proclaimed, “Ungerer’s brilliantly imaginative horror-jokes do not electrify the funny bone so much as they thud into the solar plexus and stab the intellect… [though they] have the encouraging humanizing effect of all good satire.”