This article was originally published in the May 1988 issue of Playboy magazine.
Ralph and I met at the Kentucky Derby in 1970, and it took me about 14 seconds to spot the Jekyll-and-Hyde quaity in him. He looked straight, but I knew he wasn’t. I don’t think I’d even seen his work-maybe he sketched a little-but I recognized the fiend in him immediately… that dark whistling sound that comes with the shock of recognition. Here was this kinky fucking Welshman, first time in the United States, and I could tell just from talking with him that the way he saw things was unique, original, hopelessly twisted. He didn’t know a fucking thing about the Derby. I’m from Louisville, so I knew all about that shit, and his perceptions convinced me right away that I had found a true monster, a man who would gnaw the ears off children. We understood each other.We were thrown together at the last minute. I had an assignment to cover the race for Scanlon’s Monthy, and I had refused to work with photographers any more, because they were just too much fucking trouble. I called Patrick Oliphant, the political cartoonist, but he couldn’t do it. Then Waffen Hinckle, the editor of Scanlon’s, said, “By God, I think I know somebody. A weird Welsh cartoonist, crazed.” I hadn’t seen a thing by him, but we had no choice. He flew straight from London to Louisville, and I flew from Denver. I don’t think Ralph liked me at all when we met. He didn’t appreciate the fact that the press passes we were holding had been obtained at the last minute by questionable means. I’d applied for them three days before the race and the press guy had said to me, “Are you crazy? We’ve been out for three months.” I finally pulled every string I had in Louisville and got us into the press box, which was right at the finish line, above the govenor’s box. As soon as he started sketching, I saw that he was an incredible artist. I knew the Derby to be a fucking nadir of human behavior, I knew what he was looking at, but he saw it very differently than I did. It was like having another set of eyes. In fact, his reactions to things were so good that I began to put him in horrible, violent situations just to see what would happen. I still do it. He claims to hate it, of course, but I tell him, “Ralph, you have to have pain. You have to get weird.” It got so that if I were going to Mace somebody, I would put Ralph out there to confront the Macee, just to get his reaction.
I actually did Mace the governor’s box at the Derby. Mace was legal then, and I’d bought a can for $5.98 in a drugstore, and at some point, I just moved over to the rail of the press box and sent a stream down on the governor and his guests. It was a while before they realized what was happening. I mean, you’re in the governor’s box with a cordon of state troopers around you, the cream of Kentucky society coming and going, and you start to feel weird, feel something dropping, and your first thought is not that it’s Mace coming from the press box. It takes a long time to make that jump. They got an itch on them, then they rubbed their eyes. It got nasty.
Ralph was horrified, of course. It confirmed every ugly thing he’d thought about America before he’d ever visited. Savages. Brutes. Drunken louts with no respect for authority. All of a sudden, he’s in the middle of this hideous spectacle and the guy he’s with is saying, “Governor? Fuck the governor Let’s Mace the bastard.” And since he’d just come from England, he figured that was normal. And I was spreading a story about how the Black Panthers were going to infiltrate the Derby and erupt in a wave of violence. I told the press that I had got my information from the Michigan SDS. I had Ralph watching for them, and every once in a while, he’d say, “I see a Negro… . My God!”
He got onto the whole thing very quickly, though, and once he figured out that you could fuck with anybody and have a good time and get paid for it, well, the two of us were unbeatable. Of course, he’s turned it into a kind of fey act by now: The Baffled Britisher … “This is teddible, teddible… . What’s going on here? … Somebody please give me a dollar.”
Still, it’s magic seeing things through Ralph’s eyes. It’s the kind of fun that can keep me in a story. And knowing that the art is going to be the best, that you couldn’t do any better, is reassuring … and a little bit intimidating sometimes. I’m not sure how many stories we’ve done together, but in a way, I have a feeling I’m always working with Ralph. If there’s some kind of weird story out there somewhere, I know Ralph is brooding on it through his own twisted eyes. It’s a real piece of luck and a great gift to work with a fucker like that.