Years before he wrote The Cat in the Hat or Green Eggs and Ham, Dr. Seuss drew a sketch of a man hanging on a hook over a steaming typewriter. It was 1940, and the typist in the picture was Virginio Gayda, the leading press agent in fascist Italy. Benito Mussolini appeared above him, a naked cherub directing his propagandist's every move. Dr. Seuss passed the sketch along to the left-wing magazine PM with this letter:
Dear Editor: If you were to ask me, which you haven't, whom I consider the world's most outstanding writer of fantasy, I would, of course, answer: "I am." My second choice, however, is Virginio Gayda. The only difference is that the writings of Mr. Gayda give me a pain in the neck. This morning, the pain became too acute, and I had to do something about it.
At the time, Dr. Seuss -- whose real name was Theodor Geisel -- was a commercial illustrator for companies like General Electric. But his style was already well established. One of his ads for Standard Oil showed a "Moto-raspus" -- a mischievous feline creature -- scratching at the engine of a car. Another, for NBC, featured an elephant that looked very much like the future star of Horton Hears a Who.
Between 1941 and 1943, Geisel's swoopy trees and whimsical creatures appeared in more than 400 political cartoons for PM. One of them, published six weeks before America entered the war, shows a GOP elephant and an "Isolationist Ostrich" gazing at their offspring: a preposterous creature with a long trunk and useless wings. "He's a noisy little so-and-so," the elephant says proudly, "but, sweetheart, he's all ours."