In the 1950s, when the pages of the Saturday Evening Post and McCall’s were dominated with the realist paintings of Norman Rockwell and Bernie Fuchs, French-born illustrator Tomi Ungerer brought in his loose, graphic drawing style and absurdist sensibilities and changed the direction of American illustration. In the new documentary film Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story, we learn about Ungerer’s early life in Alsace, France as a young artist encouraged by the Nazi party during their French occupation, to his journey to America in search of new opportunities, and his subsequent blacklisting from the children’s book industry.
Featuring interviews with Steven Heller, Jules Feiffer and the late Maurice Sendak, Far Out Isn’t Far Enough is a buoyant and vivid documentary film, painting an inspiring picture of an award-winning illustrator, trilingual author, brilliant satirist, and dedicated humanitarian advocate. Ungerer upended social and professional morays in the pre-pre-Internet era, delighting (and offending) editors, critics and readers by breaking taboos, back when there was still a better assortment of taboos waiting to be broken.
Ungerer’s portrayal is both of an unstable-but-good spirited neighborhood kook and avuncular storyteller, grinning from behind a freshly lit joint and admiring a recently found dismembered baby doll appendage. “Children should be traumatized,” he grins. “If you want to give them an identity, children should be traumatized.” And he speaks from personal experience; socially paranoid, emotionally erratic and “oblivious,” as recounted by Sendak, he represents that classic tortured artist, except that instead of wringing his hands over how best to suffer for his creations, he suffered, survived and then created.