The genius of Dr. Seuss and his work is shown through its live action adaptations: The Cat in the Hat and The Grinch. Both these films have received mixed reactions. This is primarily because they both tried to make real people look like Dr. Seuss’ characters, when only Seuss himself can make them look palatable. None of his figures are completely human. They have circular faces and bodies with thin, pointy appendages. The coloring in his children’s books is simplistic and bright. The designs look simple but have intricate line work, oftentimes in place of other forms of shading, but never too much.
This art is exemplary in one of his most famous images, The Cat from The Cat in the Hat. While the cat does not have every single hair of his black fur drawn, he is composed of a series of thin black lines very close together. The result is a clear gradient without excess. While his pictures have garnered great acclaim, his backdrops are also incredible. Each of his different scenes are human-like but also surreal. Nothing looks like it could belong in our universe, which makes it difficult to translate to screen.
The Early Life and Work of Dr. Seuss
Theodor Seuss Geisel was studying at Lincoln College before future wife Helen Palmer told him to quit and pursue a drawing career. He was relatively unsuccessful for most of his early life. He drew cartoons for different magazines, eventually getting a job at humor magazine Judge. This gave him the financial stability to propose to Palmer. It was there he created his first advertisement for Flit, a mosquito repellent, which made him successful but creatively unfulfilled. During these years he primarily used humans that look similar but less interesting than the beings he became known for drawing. It is clear he was much better at drawing animals, in this case mosquitos, as they would have more interesting features.
We later received more interesting figures through the World War 2 propaganda art that allowed Seuss to quit Flit. Most of the people presented were less human than before, with certain creatures representing different countries. It is here we first see the darker side of Seuss’ art. There were many monsters with terrifying features. In a cartoon titled The Appeaser, we see a man, known as the Appeaser, presenting a lollypop to terrifying sea creatures. Seuss’ intricate line art is used to create menacing eyebrows, scraggly whiskers, and sharp teeth.
The Children’s Books
While he did write children’s books before the War, it was only after that he created the books that ended up making him famous. It was during this time he created Cat in the Hat, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and Green Eggs and Ham. These were the works that he became most known for, and those that defined his career. Interestingly, he never had any kids of his own, but spent a great deal of time on books for them. He was said to have created names for fake children and would even sign their names on his Christmas cards. These are the books with the illustrations that have become most popular, the images of Seuss that have endured.
He addressed sensitive issues through his storytelling. He tells a tale of racial equality through The Sneetches and of environmentalism through The Lorax. Seuss wrote all of his books, and famously included the rhyme scheme anapestic tetrameter, which is popular among English speaking writers. The quality of his writing is unsurprising given he was an English major in college.
The Midnight Works
During the time he was creating children’s literature he was also creating his dark, or midnight paintings. In these images his characters look the same but often utilize an entirely different color scheme. Most of Seuss’ children’s books include bright, pastel colors, whereas the dark paintings include dark blues, blacks, yellows and greens. Oftentimes these figures would exist in universes similar to those shown in his children’s books, but with odd angles and color schemes.
Sometimes characters would not feature his famous line art, and would instead blend into the background. It’s hard to tell what Seuss was thinking, given these paintings were only released after his death. Some of them do have images and meanings that can be interpreted as indicative of his psyche. Cat on the Wrong Side of the Tracks features a cat with a similar appearance to his famous Cat in the Hat, but with a cigarette in his mouth and a lascivious female on his tie. Ultimately, these represent the two things that Seuss could never show in his children’s drawings: drugs and sexuality. He also created sculptures from animal bones, creating Seuss-esque creatures that appear to be taxidermied.
Many of these images are merely the result of having too many dark colors from a paint set. People can get whatever they want from them, and may be correct, but unlike with his children’s books and his political cartoons, this art is entirely up to interpretation.
Dr. Seuss is an intriguing artist and his style remained unique and arguably beautiful throughout his years. While he uses techniques some artists might find reprehensible, Seuss is nonetheless able to make it appealing. Through his art, he has created iconic books and images.
Edited by: Anna Hilbun