Before he became well known as the writer and illustrator of charming children’s books, Dr. Seuss (aka Theodor Seuss Geisel) had another gig: He drew political cartoons. In fact, in the run-up to World War II, Seuss drew some fairly pointed cartoons accusing those who wanted to stay out of the war of being manipulated by the Nazis.
Alas, one stash of these cartoons is being kept firmly out of the public eye, as reporter Bill Sloat reveals in a fine piece in the Cincinnati City Paper: The Cincinnati Art Museum has five of Seuss’ political cartoons, all drawn for the left-leaning newspaper PM between 1939 and 1941, but they aren’t on exhibit, and the museum has no plans to put them on public display:
Kristin Spangenberg, curator of print at the art museum, said the cartoons are being preserved and are safe. They probably haven’t been on public view since 1991, the year Dr. Seuss died at age 87. The museum offered a brief showing as a memorial.
Spangenberg said the museum has “limited exhibition space” and can’t put the works up fulltime.
“From the standpoint of history, they have value,” the curator said. “We have a talented individual, Dr. Seuss, commenting on major events. That’s really part of the overall view. … overall value, of the cartoons’ visual contribution. These prints are a recognition of the talent of Seuss-Geisel. They are safe here. They are preserved.”
Granted that museums always have far more works than they can put on display, but it’s a bit surprising the Cincinnati folks wouldn’t be more eager to capitalize on this lesser-known aspect of Seuss’ career.
The University of California San Diego has a much larger collection of Seuss cartoons, and some of them can be seen on the website Dr. Seuss Went to War. The introduction notes that he drew about 400 cartoons for PM, about half of which were collected in a book titled Dr. Seuss Goes to War, by historian Richard H. Minear. That means the rest of the PM cartoons, as well as the ones he drew for other publications, are largely out of the public eye. It would be nice if the Cincinnati Art Museum were to make their small collection available for Seuss fans to enjoy.