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Dr. Seuss: An American Icon

SAT., NOV. 19, 2005

Back in 1931 a 27-year-old cartoonist named Ted Geisel illustrated his first book. It was called Boners, and it received lackluster reviews. The illustrations however, were roundly praised. Mind you, this was a simpler time, when boners were something you committed rather than popped, so instead of deft renderings of turgid phalli, bulging purple veins, and little flesh-colored German infantry helmets, the book is filled with illustrations of students’ schoolwork gaffes: mistakes, malaprops, and the like. For instance, the sentence “Catherine the Great’s husband was hung by her supporters” is humorously enhanced by a cartoon depicting a regally dressed man dangling from the straps of a corset. OK, maybe that doesn’t tickle your funny bone, but consider that at the time, America was ass deep in the Great Depression, so rich people getting snuffed was high humor. Funny or not, Boners inspired Geisel to write his own books, which he did under the nom de plume “Dr. Seuss.” Actually, Seuss was Geisel’s middle name, but he wasn’t a real doctor. If anything, he was a surreal doctor, an avant-garde savant who drew up whimsical, curvy cartoonscapes populated by freaky-looking, rhyme-rapping creatures like the Grinch and the Lorax. In all, Seuss wrote and illustrated 48 books and is the best-selling children’s author of all time – definitive proof that children can assimilate weird shit more easily than adults. Maybe Geisel knew this all along. Regardless, can you imagine Boners as a book full of Seussian penises? Sort of a McElligot’s Pool primer on the various shapes and sizes of the erect human phallus? That would be scarier than anything by Maurice Sendak, wouldn’t it? So what, do you ask, does the good Dr. have to do with you breaking off a piece this weekend? Here’s what: Dr. Seuss is beloved by nearly everyone with the exception of a few hateful psychopaths, and while it is considered obnoxious to quote more than a few choice lines of any Seuss verse, an appreciation of Dr. Seuss’s work is a sure sign of a well-rounded individual, and well-rounded individuals are more fun to boink – even if they look like the Lorax. If you need to fill out your Seuss, you’ll want to make it over to the Austin Museum of Art Saturday night for “Dr. Seuss: American Icon,” a lecture by author and Kansas State professor Philip Nel, who will be holding forth on the doctor as well as showing some little-known Seuss films – perfect stuff with which to work your stuff.

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