Published in the UK by Jonathan Cape in September 1973, The Butterfly Ball was a huge success, selling 50,000 copies in its three weeks, 250,000 by Christmas 1973 and over a million worldwide in its first year. “I thought it would do well,” says Aldridge, “but I never expected it to sell the numbers it ended up selling.” The book spawned a cartoon movie, merchandise, a hit album and concerts, and inspired Aldridge to create further illustrated books such as The Ship’s Cat (Jonathan Cape, 1977) and The Peacock’s Party (Jonathan Cape, 1979).
By the late Seventies the urge to translate his unique vision onto the silver screen prompted a move to Los Angeles, though his first taste of Hollywood came in 1975 when his design for an Elton John album cover, Captain Fantastic, was earmarked for development into an animated film. Having spent several months in LA developing the concept, the plug was pulled and he returned to the UK, but a seed had been sown.
“It felt totally different. If you wanted to be in the film business in England you had to scrape about [for funding]. In America, especially in LA, they always seemed more open to encouraging talent than they did in England.”
In 1980 he moved Stateside permanently, and seems to have been working tirelessly on several film treatments, including some fascinating concepts that will, hopefully, see the light of day in the not too distant future. He’s also maintained his title as a ‘graphic entertainer’ with commissions for the House of Blues, American rock band Incubus, Penguin Classics and countless others, too many to list here. Many will appear in the Design Museum exhibition, alongside early works—“pulled out of a lock-up somewhere”, sketchbooks, photographs and original illustrations from books like The Butterfly Ball.
There’s more to Alan Aldridge than this correspondent can squeeze into a 2,000-word Profile… but you’re in luck. Head down to Shad Thames this autumn and feast your eyes on the work of a man whose talent and drive helped define a golden era in the history of graphic art. Alan Aldridge, 1938-2017