Six Spots of Seuss News

Today would be Dr. Seuss’s 111th birthday! Actually, it is his 111th birthday, but Theodor Seuss Geisel is not around to celebrate it — he died in 1991, at the age of 87. In his honor, here are Six Spots of Seuss News …for all of you who yearn for Seuss. (For those who don’t, I have no use: go sing the blues in sockless shoes.)


Wisconsin Public Radio1) I’ll be talking to Central Time‘s Rob Ferrett on Wisconsin Public Radio, today (March 2nd) somewhere in the 5 o’clock hour. I was told that it’d begin at 5:40 pm Central. According to WPR’s website, I will be giving “the story behind the new book,” and helping “look back at the life of the legendary author.”  Not in Wisconsin?  Not to worry: you can listen live.

UPDATE, 3 March 2015: Here’s a direct link to the audio. 9 mins.


2) From Dr. Seuss’s “The Advertising Business at a Glance” series (1936), here is “The Copy Writer” (click for a larger image).

Dr. Seuss, "The Copy Writer" (1936)

Thanks to Samantha Owen for giving this to me, as an end-of-term/successful-completion-of-her-Master’s gift, last year!  For two more examples from “The Advertising Business at a Glance,” see p. 175 of Charles Cohen’s The Seuss, the Whole Seuss, and Nothing But the Seuss (2004).  You can find other examples of Seuss’s advertising work elsewhere on this blog, too — such as here (several examples) and here (Ford TV ad). Or, better, just go straight to UCSD’s Advertising Artwork of Dr. Seuss site.


Dr. Seuss, What Pet Should I Get? (2015)3) What Pet Should I Get? As you have no doubt heard, a new Dr. Seuss book will be published this July. People have been asking me about it.  Here are a few answers to your questions.

Q: Have you seen it?

A: No. The manuscript is among the materials donated by Audrey Geisel (Seuss’s widow) to UCSD’s special collections in 2013 & 2014. I haven’t done research there in about ten years; I was last there in 2007, to give a lecture.

Incidentally, in its story on the news of this donation, the San Diego Union-Tribune published a page from what appears to be What Pet Should I Get?  It seems that the book’s working title was Pet Store.

A story board complete with typewritten notes taped from the Dr. Seuss book, "The Pet Store" (UCSD)

Q: Is it legit?

A: I have no reason to doubt its legitimacy. In addition to the existence of the above page (evidently from the book in question), Seuss wrote far, far more than he published. As he once said, “To get a sixty-page book, I may easily write a thousand pages before I’m satisfied!”

During the period that he wrote it (1958-1962, according to the press release), Seuss was so prolific that he started to publish books under other pseudonyms — that way, “Dr. Seuss” wouldn’t have more than one book coming out each season. The first such book was Ten Apples Up on Top! (1961), illustrated by Roy McKie and credited to Theo. LeSieg (which is “Geisel” backwards). All the LeSieg books were not illustrated by Seuss. Most were done by McKie, but several featured the art of others, including New Yorker cartoonists B. Tobey, George Booth, and Charles E. Martin.

Since there were already two of his books coming out in 1961 (The Sneetches and Other Stories, and Ten Apples Up on Top), Seuss may have decided against publishing another that year — or in whatever year he wrote it. He published two books in 1958, one in 1959, and two in 1960, one of which was One fish red fish blue fish.

Q: The press release says the book features the two children from One fish two fish red fish blue fish. What do you make of that?

A: One fish two fish red fish blue fish is a non-narrative book — Seuss’s first children’s book to lack a story. It’s more of a concept book, a series of episodes in which various fantastical creatures appear. The boy and the girl recur in a dozen or so of these episodes, most of which are only a couple of pages long.

My guess is that, while writing One fish two fish red fish blue fish, Seuss found himself with a full-length story featuring the book’s unnamed brother and sister. Since there was no room for an entire, book-length narrative in this collection of small episodes, he cut it.  Or, he may have written the full story first — What Pet Should I Get? — and then, one section of it inspired him to create (instead) an entire non-narrative book featuring the two children and the curious animals of One fish two fish red fish blue fish.  A third possibility is that What Pet Should I Get? is an earlier version of what became One fish two fish red fish blue fish.

For more, tune into Wisconsin Public Radio during the 5 o’clock hour (Central Time) today — probably at 5:40 pm.


Dr. Seuss, One fish two fish red fish blue fish (1960)4) The Fish in the Court.  Speaking of One fish two fish red fish blue fish, Justice Elena Kagan cited the book in a Supreme Court case last week.  The gist of the case (Yates v. United States) is that, when caught with undersized grouper, a Florida fisherman attempted to get rid of the evidence by throwing it (all of the fish) back into the sea. Officials charged the fisherman under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which prohibits destroying “any record, document, or tangible object” that might impede a federal investigation. In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court actually sided with the fisherman, ruling that Sarbanes-Oxley only applied to documents and not to fish.  In her dissenting opinion, Kagan disputed the notion that a fish is not a “tangible object”:

As the plurality must acknowledge, the ordinary meaning of “tangible object” is “a discrete thing that possesses physical form.” Ante, at 7 (punctuation and citation omitted). A fish is, of course, a discrete thing that possesses physical form. See generally Dr. Seuss, One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish (1960). So the ordinary meaning of the term “tangible object” in §1519, as no one here disputes, covers fish (including too-small red grouper).

You can read the entire ruling on the Supreme Court’s website.  The above appears on page p. 29 of the pdf — p. 2 of Kagan’s dissent.

Thanks to Gary R. Dyer and Nathalie op de Beeck for the tip.


5) The Dr. Seuss Rap Quiz

Which of the following groups has no songs that reference Dr. Seuss? Also, if you try to Google this, you may get the occasional NSFW lyric. So,… don’t use Google. Use your brain.  Choose only the correct answer or answers.  First person to get the right answer will receive a Seuss-ish gift. Seriously.

A) A Tribe Called Quest

B) Beastie Boys

C) Blackalicious

D) Michael Franti & Spearhead

E) RUN-DMC

F) 3rd Bass

Tomorrow, I will post the answer at the very end of this post. I will also tell you which of these artists’ songs include references to Seuss or his works.


Dr. Seuss, Cat in the Hat's hat6) Was the Cat in the Hat Black? LIVE! March 10th! That’s “LIVE!” as in “LIVE in concert” because, on March 10th, I’ll be giving a fully illustrated version of this talk plus (for the first time!) some of the introduction to the book of which it will be a part.  When? Where?

It’s at 4:15 pm, Watson Forum, at DePauw University, in Greencastle, Indiana.  More details via DePauw’s Dept. of English “Events” page.  Another reason for you to come: Michelle Martin will be giving a talk at 7:30 pm, in the Prindle Auditorium: “From the Kitchen to the Edges: Hair Representations in African American Children’s Picture Books.”  These are free and open to the public.

If you’d like to read “Was the Cat in the Hat Black?,” click on this sentence and/or email me for a copy.


Since it is Seuss’s birthday, you might enjoy perusing other posts tagged Seuss.  Here’s a selection:

Occasionally, I get asked to talk about Dr. Seuss:

  • “New Window into Dr. Seuss’s genius” (26 Feb. 2014). John Wilkens’ article in the San Diego Tribune discusses new Seuss material that his widow, Audrey, donated to the Dr. Seuss Papers at UCSD.
  • “Dr. Seuss: Mini-Biography.”  A&E Biography (2013).  Time: 4 minutes.
  • All Things Considered. Lynn Neary, “‘The Bippolo Seed’ : The ‘Lost’ Dr. Seuss Stories” (13 Apr. 2011): audio & transcript.  Charles Cohen & I talk about the new book of “lost” Seuss stories (edited by Charles).  Time: 3 mins, 30 secs.
  • Diane Rehm Show. Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (22 Dec. 2010): audio | transcript. Reverend Derrick Harkins, Maria Salvadore, and I talk with Diane Rehm about the Grinch.  Time: 1 hour.
  • Morning Edition. Lynn Neary, “Fifty Years of The Cat in the Hat” (1 Mar. 2007): audio & transcript. Anita Silvey and I talk with Lynn Neary about the Cat in the Hat.  Time: 7 mins, 20 secs.
  • Talk of the Nation.  Steve Inskeep, “Celebrating the 100th Birthday of Dr. Seuss: A New Book Looks Back on the Life of Theodor Geisel” (10 Feb. 2004): audio.  I was a bit nervous at the beginning (I believe it was my first time on live national radio), but after the first few minutes I seem to settle into it well enough.  Time: 1 hour.

Though the website appears to have been designed to impede its utility, Random House’s Seussville‘s author section includes a bio. and timeline I wrote — the former heavily influenced by Judith and Neil Morgan’s excellent Dr. Seuss & Mr. Geisel.  (If you read only one book about Dr. Seuss, the Morgans’ bio is the one I’d recommend.)And… that’s all.  Happy Read Across America Day!*


*Each year on or near March 2nd (the birthday of Theodor Seuss Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss), the National Education Association sponsors Read Across America, designed to promote literacy. This year, it’ll be celebrated on Monday, March 3rd. Read more about it at the NEA’s website.

Read Across America: An NEA Project

ANSWER TO QUIZ (added 3 March 2015)

Alas, Cat’s valiant guess proves incorrect.  Apart from her, no one else took a stab at the question. I put the quiz in at no. 5 to see if anyone would actually read that far down. Either only Cat did, or my quiz measured not readership but the difficulty of answering the question.

The correct answer is C) Blackalicious.  You’d think that the group behind “Alphabet Aerobics” would have a song that references Dr. Seuss.  But, as far as I know, they don’t.  A Tribe Called Quest has an R-rated Seuss reference in “Clap Your Hands” (1993).  Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham makes an appearance in Beastie Boys’ “Egg Man” (1989) and gets alluded to in 3rd Bass’s “Pop Goes the Weasel” and “Green Eggs and Swine” (both 1991).  RUN-DMC name-checks Seuss in “Peter Piper” (1986), and Michael Franti & Spearhead’s “East to the West” (2006) mentions “the Lorax who speaks for the trees.”

Comments (1)

Comic-Con 2014: San Diego, July 23

San Diego Comic-Con 2014

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
— William Wordsworth, “The World Is Too Much With Us” (1802)
SHARKNADO
GO SHARK YOURSELF!
— promotional material for Sharknado 2: The Second One (2014)
Sharknado 2 (promotional materials, handed out on the streets near Comic-Con)

Greetings! I’m here at Comic-Con in San Diego, delivering a glimpse of the goings-on for you, my loyal readers. It is the very first evening of Comic-Con (though there are some sneak previews this evening, the programming proper begins tomorrow). So, I thought I would begin by assuring you that, despite what you may have heard from Fox News and other pessimists, capitalism is thriving here. Advertising covers all available surfaces:

buildings,…

Ascension advertisement, side of building, San Diego: the dummies of people are wearing clothes that rustle in the wind.

the train,…

Gotham, advertised on side of train.

and, of course, the body.

Vampire Diaries: advertisement on back of Comic-Con backpack worn by attendee

All those who register for Comic-Con get one of these great big canvas bags/backpacks, designed to carry lots of merchandise (and to go a bit easier on the back than a tote bag would!). Beyond making it easier for you to carry what you buy, each bag also turns the user into a walking billboard, advertising whatever is on the back.  Mine has Adam West and Burt Ward, in the original Batman TV series (1966-1968), which will be released on DVD and Blu-ray later this year.

Speaking of advertising,…


Barnaby 1 and 2 at Fantagraphics booth, Comic-Con, 2014I’ll be at the Fantagraphics booth (#1718), signing Barnaby books (which I co-edited with Eric Reynolds). Currently available: Barnaby Volume One: 1942-1943 (2013) and Barnaby Volume Two: 1944-1945 (2014).

Schedule of my signings (and the far more illustrious people who will be signing at the same time):

Stop on by, even if it’s just to say hi! And click here for full schedule of Fantagraphics authors & editors.


For those who have a four-day pass or “Professional” badge (as I do), the exhibit hall was open tonight for three hours.  It’s nice to get in before the hall gets too crowded.

Comic-Con 2014, exhibit hall: Star Wars

I’m only being partially ironic in saying it’s not yet too crowded. I was in this section of the exhibit hall on the first full day of the conference last year, and it was shoulder-to-shoulder. You couldn’t move at all. Tonight, movement was still possible.

Comic-Con 2014, exhibit hall: Walking Dead

Comic-Con 2014, exhibit hall: Simpsons, Tomb Raider, Dark Horse

So many people to meet! In the photo below, I greet fellow educator Principal Skinner, and we grin maniacally at each other. As we always do.

Principal Skinner and me.

Last year, I got to meet Snoopy. I didn’t see him this evening. I hear he’s been spotted atop his doghouse, with his typewriter, working on his novel. Maybe that round-headed kid can convince him to come by and meet his fans. Here’s hoping!

Why, hello, Kitty!  And Black Rose Alice!

Hello Kitty

Hello, Monster High merchandise!

Monster High dolls

Hello, Spawn!  And Rocket Girl!  And Rat Queens!  And, oh, who am I kidding?  I’m out of my depth here.

Spawn and others

I don’t follow the entertainment industry that closely anymore. There are good television programs and films out there. But I rarely get around to watching them. I recognize the older characters — though I’m amused to see Alfred E. Newman peeking out from between superheroes….

The Flash, Alfred E. Newman, Batman

I’m here for the comics — or “graphic novels,” to use the preferred industry term. I like to see what’s being published: new stuff, classic comics, kids’ comics, all of it. And I like to learn from the creators and the scholars on the comics panels.

Some of what I got this evening (omitted by accident: Seth's The G.N.B. Double C)

This year (as last year), I’m also here because a book I worked on was nominated for an Eisner — this year, it’s Crockett Johnson’s Barnaby Volume One: 1942-1943 (co-edited with Eric Reynolds, for Fantagraphics; designed by Daniel Clowes, foreword by Chris Ware, intro by Jeet Heer, Afterword & Notes by me). Will I become a two-time Eisner Loser? We’ll find out Friday evening….


Comic-Con 2014:

Comic-Con 2013:

Comments (1)

Comic-Con, San Diego, day 1: First Impressions

Comic-Con 2013We are attending Comic-Con for the first time.

It begins at the Kansas City airport, when I hear two people talking about the X-Files Reunion, and whether they can get tickets. Gillian Anderson, David Duchovny, and others will be on a panel honoring the 20th anniversary of the show’s debut. On the plane itself, nearly everyone is headed to Comic-Con. There are people wearing t-shirts with conspicuous logos (such as Batman), tell-tale reading material, conversations about Comic-Con. There are people with a “nerdy” look and people without, and many variations within and in between those categories.

I am not wearing a t-shirt with a logo on it, but the woman checking us in at the hotel, asks, “Comic-Con?”  Perhaps the conspicuous absence of a tan gives us away.

San Diego Convention Center

After a short walk, we approach the convention center, and the crowds soon become as thick as any in Manhattan (New York, not Kansas) at midday. A few people are in costume. There’s a Spider-Man, and one of the crew of the original U.S.S. Enterprise (Star Trek). But most are in shorts and t-shirt (as I am) or jeans and t-shirt or in a dress. This, I think, is because my being an Eisner Award nominee places us in the “Professionals” category of registration. I expect to see more costumed attendees tomorrow.

Your humble narrator and his badge, outside the convention centerThere are crowds of people already — even though the programming proper begins tomorrow. But it’s very well-organized. Stand in line, and there many volunteers making sure that your bar-code email matches your ID, and there lots of staff printing out the badges, directing you where to go.  It moves quickly and efficiently.

When you check in, you get a massive bag designed to be worn as a backpack. This is savvy marketing for three reasons. First, it encourages consumption. No one wants to be lugging a bag full of books by the handle. Put it on your back, and sure, there’s room for more! Second, the side of the bag that faces your back has the Comic-Con logo on it. The side facing out is advertising a TV show, turning the wearer into a walking billboard. Mine is encouraging people to watch Arrow on the CW this fall. And, presumably because it’s Comic-Con, the bag also has a black cape that unfurls. This is the third reason it’s smart marketing. Not only is the item useful, but it’s a toy, a costume, a game. (When you unfurl the cape, it covers up the advertisement — which invites the question What’s under there?)

Walking billboards

We were going to attend “Warner Bros. Television Preview Night,” but Karin’s tired. And, to tell the truth, I’m a bit tired myself … and I had some work to do. (Sent back edits on a book review, continued revising a fellowship proposal that I didn’t finish on the plane,….)  I’m sure that some people reading this are thinking: What? You skipped free previews?!  But, to be honest, I’m as interested in the phenomenon of Comic-Con as I am in individual panels. And, tomorrow after breakfast with Mr. Charles Hatfield and a morning signing at the Fantagraphics table, I am going to those panels.  So… best to rest up for the big day.

The Zombie Apocalypse Store, San Diego

P.S. Appropriately, the Zombie Apocalypse Store is adjacent to a Hooters. No, I’m not kidding. If I were a better photographer, I’d have snapped a shot of the two establishments side by side. This is not part of Comic-Con (as far as I know). It just happened to be on the walk back from dinner.

The rest of my 2013 Comic-Con coverage:

Leave a Comment

I am the Lorax. I speak for the Thneeds?

The Lorax: teaser poster (2012)The commercials for The Lorax film say:

I am the Lorax. I speak for the tweens.1

The commercials for the many Lorax tie-ins say:

I am the Lorax. I speak for the SUVs.2

I am the Lorax. I speak for the pancakes.3

I am the Lorax. I speak for the diapers.4

But what does the film itself say?  In its own way, Illumination Entertainment’s film adaptation actually does speak for the trees.  Sure, having the film’s male lead (Ted, voiced by Zac Efron) drive a gigantic motor-scooter isn’t exactly environmentally friendly. Why not give him a bicycle, or, better, the Seussian equivalent of a bicycle? That said, the kid only gets his ecological consciousness raised near the end of the film. So, perhaps having him buck social convention prior to the awakening of his conscience would have been less plausible for his character.

In any case, he does get the message. Initially, he seeks a Truffula seed solely to impress the girl he has a crush on — Audrey, voiced by Taylor Swift. (She’s named for Geisel’s widow, and he’s named for Theodor Seuss Geisel himself.) However, by film’s end, the Once-ler has convinced Ted of the Lorax’s message. In one of the movie’s final scenes, Ted, defending his goal of planting the last Truffula seed in the town square, announces, “I’m Ted Wiggins. And I speak for the trees!” Indeed, the movie manages to work the book’s central message in twice:

UNLESS someone like you

cares a whole awful lot,

nothing is going to get better.

It’s not.

Realizing what the “UNLESS” left by the Lorax must mean, The Once-ler delivers this line, just as he does in the book.  Later, just before the credits roll, the filmmakers put the full quotation up on the screen:

UNLESS someone like you

cares a whole awful lot,

nothing is going to get better.

It’s not.

— Dr. Seuss

In The Lorax’s film adaptation, the book’s environmental message comes through loud and clear.

It also amplifies the book’s depiction of capitalism as amoral.  In the “How Bad Can I Be?” number, the Once-ler (in the narrative of his past) sings about the “biggering and biggering” of his business: “My conscience is clear. I’ve done nothing illegal. I have my rights.”  Just after he sings, “nothing is going to stop me,” the Super-Axe-Hacker cuts down the last Truffula tree, and the Lorax (voiced by Danny DeVito) tells him, “That’s it. The very last one. That may stop ya.”  This puts the lie to the plaque on the wall of his mansion, glimpsed earlier in the song:

TOO BIG

TO FAIL

The Once-ler.

Aligning the Once-ler’s Thneed business with the mismanaged banking industry, the film reminds us that no one is too big to fail. The Once-ler’s remorse for destroying the trees also indicates that all business decisions are moral ones: what is legal or financially remunerative may not also be moral.

Driving this point home, the film creates a second villain who, unlike the Once-ler, does not develop a conscience during the movie.  Voiced by Rob Riggle, O’Hare is the businessman who runs Thneedville, where our protagonist and everyone but the Once-ler lives. He makes his money selling air. Thneedville is a walled-in, completely artificial city: As we learn at the beginning of the film, it’s “a town without nature, not one living tree.” Visually, it looks a little too appealing, like a Seussian amusement park.  The grey, desiccated Street of the Lifted Lorax more effectively makes vivid the effects of pollution.  However, the film shows us that scene, too. And it exposes O’Hare’s mercenary nature: he doesn’t want a tree in Thneedville because it’s bad for business. Warning Ted to cease venturing outside Thneedville (where the Once-ler lives), he says, “I make a living selling fresh air to people. Trees — they make it for free.  So, I see this as a threat to my business.”

As you will have already discerned, yes, the film is didactic. Of course, the book was didactic, too. Both offer entertaining didacticism — brightly colored landscapes, rollicking anapestic verse, and, in the film, more fully developed characters, dance numbers, a lively score by and even a tween crush.  Seuss purists may complain: but the book has no dance numbers, no tween crush, no Thneedville, no O’Hare, and the Once-ler does not play the guitar!  All of that is true.  If you were hoping for a movie that was slavishly faithful to Seuss’s original book, then the film will disappoint.

However, a picture book and a film each have different strengths and weaknesses.  An attempt to create a literal rendition of the book would fail,… and would probably be quite short.  The question to ask is not: Was the film faithful to the book?  No film can be faithful to its original source, and nor should it aspire to be.  The question to ask is: How well did the director, writers, actors, animators, etc. translate the experience of the book into the medium of animated film?  And: Did their film manage to convey the core experience of the book?  In the case of The Lorax, the answer is: Yes.

Indeed, I would go so far as to say that Dr. Seuss himself would like the film — or most of it, anyway.

Kelloggs' Frosted Mini-Wheats, featuring the Grinch (2000)I doubt Seuss would appreciate seeing his Lorax selling SUVs, diapers, or pancakes, just as I suspect he would have disapproved of the Grinch being used to sell cereal, candy, and soda.  The 2000 live-action Grinch film had its title character selling Frosted Mini-Wheats, Hershey’s candies, and Sprite — among many other products.  When Seuss’s anti-consumerist grouch (the Grinch) is selling Frosted Flakes or his environmental protector (the Lorax) is selling SUVs, there’s a problem.

Yes, I recognize that product tie-ins are a standard way to underwrite the astronomical costs of a big-budget film. Furthermore, I’m aware that Seuss was an advertising man himself: until the publication of The Cat in the Hat (1957), he made his living by creating advertisements, not children’s literature.  In other words, I’m not trying to represent Seuss as a morally uncomplicated, anti-consumerist figure.  He was a commercial success in part because he was able to apply what he learned in advertising to writing and illustrating books for children.

However, you don’t have to be a Seuss scholar to see that the Lorax should be speaking for the trees, not the SUVs. As the book and the film make clear, we really don’t need more Thneeds.

My rating for the film: B+.

My rating for the tie-ins: F.


1. The trailer plays up the romance narrative, which (mercifully) doesn’t figure as prominently in the film.  Below, the longer version.  The short ads give the whole love-interest angle even more prominence.

2. In connection with the film, the Lorax is selling the Mazda CX-5 as “Truffula Tree-Certified.”  In addition to running on TV, this ad ran in the theatre prior to the start of the film.  Oy.

3. As the Horton Hears a Who! film (which I would also recommend) did, The Lorax is selling food of dubious nutritional merit.  That is, both are selling food from the International House of Pancakes.  At IHoP, you can buy Rooty Tooty Bar-Ba-Looty Blueberry Cone Cakes and Truffula Chip Pancakes.

True, the commercial above indicates that IHoP is also giving away free seeds — which, at least, is something.

4. Seventh Generation is selling diapers bearing the Lorax’s likeness.  In their defense, they’re trying to make healthier diapers (which is more in line with The Lorax‘s message).  Of course, they are disposable, which isn’t great for the environment.

The Lorax: diapers by Seventh Generation

Comments (1)

Crockett Johnson for the American Cancer Society, 1958

Courtesy of Mark Newgarden, it’s Crockett Johnson advising you to get a check-up so that you don’t get cancer.  Johnson created this 1958 pamphlet for the American Cancer Society, and I strongly suspect that he designed it, too.  (Clicking on each image will produce a larger version.)

Crockett Johnson, pamphlet for American Cancer Society (1958): cover

Unfold to the left, and see:

Crockett Johnson, pamphlet for American Cancer Society (1958): first, unfold to the left.

Next, unfold to the right, for:

Crockett Johnson, pamphlet for American Cancer Society (1958): next, unfold to the right

When you click on the above (for a larger image), you’ll see the Crockett Johnson aesthetic at work — a clear line, with small changes from panel to panel (recalling his Little Man with the Eyes in this respect).

When the pamphlet advises, “Know these warning signals may mean cancer,” I can’t help but think of Crockett Johnson’s death from lung cancer, 17 years later.  Which signals prompted him to go to the doctor in early 1975?  And, as a lifelong smoker, did he already suspect what was wrong with him?

In my Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children’s Literature (coming this fall), I reproduce a full-page magazine ad Johnson did for the American Cancer Society.  But I’d never seen this pamphlet until Mark sent it to me.  Had we time and were there interest, it’d be fun to collect all of Johnson’s advertising work and publish it in a small book.  I doubt there’d be much of a market for such an item, but it’s a nice idea to imagine.

Crockett Johnson, pamphlet for American Cancer Society (1958): back cover

Leave a Comment

“This is the kind of book I like”: Crockett Johnson, famous cartoonist & bookseller

Although I wouldn’t argue that once upon a time “illustrators were celebrities,” it’s definitely true that they were once more celebrated than they are now.  Predictably, one illustrator who comes to my mind is Crockett Johnson (my biography of Johnson and his wife Ruth Krauss will be published in the fall of 2012).  In 1947, Johnson’s casual remark during a visit to the offices of William Sloane Associates struck Sloane — who founded the publishing company the previous year, after leaving Henry Holt (where he had been Vice President) — as interesting enough to use in an advertisement.  (Click on the image to enlarge.)

William Sloane Associates: advertisement, New York Times, 26 Oct. 1947

Ward Moore, Greener Than You Think (1947)The book to which Johnson refers is Ward Moore‘s Greener Than You Think (1947), a science-fiction satire about a mutant strain of crabgrass that ultimately takes over the world.  Even by the standards of science fiction, it’s an unusual novel.

I know this because, when I found this advertisement (thanks to ProQuest’s Historical New York Times database), I sought a copy of Moore’s novel and read it. I wondered: Why would Crockett Johnson be drawn to such a curious book?  Or, indeed, was he drawn to it at all?  One should not take advertisements at face value, and, in any case, Johnson had a wry sense of humor.  Perhaps this off-hand quip was nothing more than just that.  Or, it may have simply been one of the many things in which he was interested.  Johnson’s curiosity covered a wide array of subjects; in his intellectual interests and abilities, he was very much a renaissance man.

Turns out that, in its claim of Johnson’s interest in the book, the advertisement appears to have been telling the truth.  In some 1947 notes written in an attempt to overcome writer’s block, Ruth Krauss mentions her husband’s interest in this book — which, she suspects, derives from his lifelong aversion to crab grass.  Though Johnson later gave up on gardening, in the 1940s he was an avid gardner.

I ultimately did include a few sentences on this book in the biography.  I did so because it illuminated an aspect of Johnson’s character, spoke to his wide-ranging interests, and located him in the offices of a publisher during a rough patch, professionally.  I speculated that he might have been in the offices of the former VP of Holt (which published his two Barnaby books) in order to discuss the planned but never published third Barnaby book.  It’s also mentioned in the bio. because it tells us that, in 1947, Johnson carried enough cultural caché to be quoted in a New York Times advertisement.

This little episode is but one of many reasons why this biography has taken so long to write. (I began working on it in the waning days of the Clinton Administration.) It’s also why, although I’m tempted to undertake another biography, actually doing so seems less likely.  Undertaking another one is likely another decade’s worth of commitment.

Posts tagged Crockett Johnson or Ruth Krauss or Biography will all send you to something connected to the biography.  If you’d like a more directed reading experience, here’s an incomplete list of other posts:

Leave a Comment

The exquisite corpse will drink the new cappuccino

Half-way through the “Surrealism: The Poetry of Dreams” exhibit at the Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA) here in Brisbane, museum-goers encounter this:

Exquisite Corpse Bar at GoMA

A clever riff on the Surrealist game that exploits the mysteries of accidental juxtapositions, this mid-exhibit bar also offered a welcome rest to travel-weary visitors (such as your humble narrator, who visited the exhibit following a 15-hour flight from Dallas-Ft. Worth).  Should you find yourself in Brisbane prior to 2 October 2011, the GoMA exhibit on Surrealism is excellent, bringing in not only the usual suspects (Marcel Duchamp, Giorgio De Chirico, Max Ernst, Jean Arp, René Magritte, Salvador Dalí, Man Ray), but also some whose art is not as well known (Victor Brauner, André Masson, Dora Maar) and Surrealism’s legacy in works by Jackson Pollock, Arshile Gorky, Dorothea Tanning and Joseph Cornell.

A particular strength of the exhibit are the half-dozen or so surrealist films interspersed (and continuously running) throughout the exhibit, such as the classic (and disturbing) Buñuel-Dalí collaboration Un Chien Andalou:

GoMA is also hosting a range of events in conjunction with the exhibit.

Surrealism for KidsSince I’m in town to attend the International Research Society for Children’s Literature’s bi-annual conference, I should also mention that the exhibit has created kid-friendly captions for some of the artworks, and has created an interactive on-line component, The Surrealist Chronicle.  Available for perusing near the Exquisite Corpse snack bar (pictured above) and for sale at the museum store, the book Surrealism for Kids also invites children to deploy surrealist techniques to explore their creativity.

Leave a Comment

Have a Psychedelic 4th of July

With a hat tip to Mark Newgarden‘s Facebook feed, here’s a short film made for the American Bicentennial.  Funded by a Bicentennial Project Grant and produced by the United States Information Agency, the cartoon looks like its director may have viewed Yellow Submarine a few too many times.

The director is Vincent Collins.  Here’s a page featuring other animation he did:

Comments (1)

Hey, Kids! Try Some Candy Tobacco!

R.J. Reynolds Tobacco began selling Camel Orbs, Camel Sticks and Camel Strips earlier this year.

“The Orbs look like Tic Tacs, the Sticks look like toothpicks and the Strips look like breath strips,” said Susan Westof, tobacco prevention specialist, with the Jefferson County Public Health Department. …

“The products are packaged in a way that makes them indistinguishable from candy,” said Donna Viverette, the department’s tobacco prevention coordinator. “That’s an issue if they end up in the hands of children.”

— Lance Hernandez, “Health Experts Alarmed By ‘Candy Like’ Tobacco Products: R.J. Reynolds Test Marketing Orbs, Strips, Sticks In Denver,” ABC 7 News, Denver, 24 May 2011.

Kansas is one of three states in which tobacco sticks — products that resemble chocolate-covered toothpicks and are sold in matchbook-sized packages — are being tested

— “KDHE issues ‘tobacco stick’ advisory,” Topeka Capital-Journal, 26 May 2011

I suppose it was inevitable.  To entice children to try their product, cigarette companies have used cartoon characters (Joe Camel) and hip accessories (Marlboro Gear).  Why not take the next logical step and disguise nicotine as candy?  One wonders why they’ve waited so long to do this.

Camel Orbs, Sticks, and StripsR.J.Reynolds company spokesperson alleges that no, of course they wouldn’t market their product to children.  However, these “dissolvables” look and taste like candy — specifically, like chocolate mint.  They come in attractive packages that can be easily hidden in a shirt pocket.  Which, of course, is precisely the idea.  Children can get hooked on these candy-flavored tobacco sticks, and easily conceal the package.  Clever.

And, of course, vital for the industry.  If it hooks a smoker at a young age, then a tobacco company can sell so much more of its product — until, of course, the smoker dies.  But death takes years!  And young people tend to be more susceptible to marketing.  So… tobacco companies have long tried to lure the young user.  It’s good for business.

But disguising nicotine as candy?  Even for an industry not known for any sense of shame, this approach seems particularly brazen.  As Harvard School of Public Health Professor Gregory N. Connolly (the lead researcher on a study of these products) said, “Nicotine is a highly addictive drug, and to make it look like a piece of candy is recklessly playing with the health of children.”

In the same New York Times article from which the above quotation comes, R.J. Reynolds spokesman David Howard says that it’s unfair to single out these candy-like tobacco products for criticism: after all, many households contain products dangerous to children.  Mr. Howard explains, “Virtually every household has products that could be hazardous to children, like cleaning supplies, medicines, health and beauty products, and you compare that to 20 to 25 percent of households that use tobacco products.”  But Dr. Jonathan P. Winickoff, Harvard medical professor, offers a sharp, pithy response to Mr. Howard’s sophistry: “The difference here is that kids potentially will be watching grown-ups ingesting these products. The last time I checked, we don’t have adults drinking toilet bowl cleanser in front of their kids.”

Well, not until R.J. Reynolds finds a way to market a delicious, sweet toilet-bowl-cleanser drink.  And, given the company’s new candy-flavored nicotine, I wouldn’t put anything past them.

Comments (3)

Oh, the Thinks That He Thought! Some of Seuss’s lesser-known works

from Dr. Seuss's Oh the Thinks You Can Think!

Born 107 years ago today in Springfield Mass., Theodor Seuss Geisel had an extraordinarily prolific career.  Most people know him for the 44 books he wrote and illustrated under the name “Dr. Seuss.”  But that’s only part of his career.  He wrote another 13 books under the name “Theo. LeSieg,” one book as “Rosetta Stone,” and then there are books co-authored, books published posthumously, and books illustrated by others.  And those are only the books.  He did so much more!

So, in honor of his birthday, here are three other “thinks” that Seuss thought.

1. Gerald McBoing-Boing.  Featuring Dr. Seuss’s verse and the animation skills of Bill Melendéz (who would later work on the animated Peanuts specials), United Productions of America released Gerald McBoing-Boing in 1950.  The film would win an Academy Award for Best Animated Short.  The studio would go on to produce a few McBoing-Boing sequels and the Mr. Magoo cartoons.

2. The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T. Seuss’s live-action musical, released in 1953, features notable performances by Tommy Rettig (later Jeff on TV’s Lassie) and Hans Conried.  For more info., you might take a look at this earlier blog post.  Below, a happily campy musical number featuring Mr. Conried as Dr. T.

3. Advertising, and lots of it. Before he was a children’s writer, Seuss was an ad-man.  Even after he started writing for children (his first children’s book was published in 1937), he still made his living in advertising.  The success of his 13th children’s book, The Cat in the Hat (1957), would change all that.  After the publication of The Cat, he was able to devote himself to writing for children full-time.  For more on Seuss’s ads, you might take a look at this earlier blog post.
Seuss: Flit ad (from UCSD's website)

And there are so many other areas we could explore — political cartoons, to name one example.  His paintings and other illustration work, to name two more.  But I’ll wrap things up in the next few sentences, and offer some suggestions where — in addition to the links throughout this post — you might go to learn more.  Depending on your threshold for flashy web design, you could check out Random House’s Seussville website: it features my biography of Seuss, along with abundant animation and sound effects (I suggest you mute your computer’s volume before clicking on either of the links in this sentence).  For a more complete biography, though, do turn to the primary source for what I wrote for Random House: Judith and Neil Morgan’s Dr. Seuss & Mr. Geisel (1995). Indeed, if you read only one secondary source on Dr. Seuss, that’s the book to read.

Oh, and happy Read Across America Day!

Comments (2)