Reviewed by Nora Mahony
Theodor Seuss Geisel
The Early Works of Dr. Seuss Volume 1
Checker Publishing Group
Theodor Seuss Geisel had a rich and varied career before becoming one of America’s favourite authors for children. A quiet man who kept to himself, he received two Academy awards, a Pulitzer Prize, a Peabody award, and two Emmys for his thought-provoking, critical, entertaining and funny work. Other achievements include supporting himself and his wife through the Depression by drawing advertisements for major companies, and, though too old to be drafted, serving the war effort in Robert Capa’s signal crew, writing propaganda scripts and pamphlets for the soldiers.
Many of the illustrations collected here speak of a more innocent age, and are all the more interesting for it. Today, when infantry learn of the perils of chemical warfare, it is astounding to think that not so long ago, soldiers were warned against the threat of disease with ‘Ann the Anopheles Mosquito’. A coquettish red figure, Ann adorned one of Geisel’s pamphlet commissioned for the military.
Equally, much of his work bridged a paradigm shift in the advertising world. Though connections between basic good and services and the personal life of consumers may be second nature to us now, Geisel’s advertising work was forward-thinking for connecting the act of purchase with an improvement in quality of life; get better car tyres, get out to the countryside of a weekend, or take your date somewhere new.
The most impressive of Geisel’s work is his body of war cartoons; highly informed, arch and demanding, they are among the strongest critical images of the politics of WWII as played out in the broadsheets. Like all satire, his drawings inform and amuse with equal weight, a time capsule of the mood of the day.
At £14.99, this book is cheap at the price, and an excellent introduction to Geisel’s work. It is a commendable mix of the silly, the sinister and the political, drawn from a wide variety of sources across advertising, newspapers and magazines. The relatively low production values, however, will mean that it will have limited appeal to the very people most likely to buy it or be given it: comic collectors. Little thought went into the text, which is fair enough, as Geisel’s signature style and arch wit speak for themselves, but the majority of the pages are grossly over-designed to the point that it’s difficult to know what you’re looking at. Most irritatingly, the text and images run too close to the spine.
All that said, childhood fans, American history buffs, and parents who read nightly the escapades of certain primary-coloured fish, cats in hats and Sam’s unusual breakfast choices will love this round-up of the earliest and perhaps the best of one of the greatest creative illustrators of our time.
To add a personal note, I must confess a lifelong love of all things Seuss. Being the sort of child who most wanted a photo with Eeyore when we went to Disney World (sorry, Mr. Milne), I was not a Cat in the Hat girl, truth be known. For me, happiness was found in the slightly menacing mix of skittish, shady and mischievous characters at home in There’s a Wocket in My Pocket, particularly that Zelf up on the shelf! I have talked to him myself.
I don’t care if you believe it. That’s the kind of house I live in. And I hope we never leave it.
If you are unfamiliar with the world of Dr. Seuss for children, a sweet entry on Wikipedia should set you on the right track: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/There’s_a_Wocket_in_My_Pocket!
and the Seuss Museum can be found at: www.catinthehat.org
About the reviewer: Nora Mahony is a misplaced Dubliner of Washingtonian origin. She is currently working in publishing in London, where she is a member of the Society of Young Publishers. A graduate of Trinity College, Dublin in Italian and French, she is a frequent contributor to the Irish Times and the Times Literary Supplement, and is seeking to expand her reviewing repertoire. Nora has also written copy for a range of art and design books over the past year, something that she is ill-qualified to do but enjoyed nonetheless. Visit: www.thesyp.org.uk