The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins
How It All Goes Down
You're probably not surprised to hear that Dr. Seuss both wrote and illustrated The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins. That's pretty much how he rolls, right? But this one's only the second children's book he ever published, so there are drastic differences between the illustrations here and what many readers consider that signature Seuss style.
The illustrations lack the furry creatures, impossibly curved architecture, and minimalist backgrounds of later Seuss works. Instead, these drawings remind us of the style used in comic strips in the first-half of the 20th century—think The Adventures of Tintin. It makes sense, too. Seuss worked in advertisement and comics before he made the jump to children's books, and he even had his own comic strip, Hejji, published just three years prior to The 500 Hats in 1935.
Depending on whether you have the original or the 75th Anniversary edition, you'll have two pretty distinct reading experiences.
In the original, everything looks darker, rougher, and grittier. The result is a world that's a little more intimidating and dirtier. Vanguard, the original publishers, thought of the book as more of a mystery novel, and the art direction of their original print definitely has a film noir vibe to it— although in film noir, the distinction between shadow and light tended to be crisper than the sketchy blend on display here. The grittier style also gives the book an old-school feel in line with its Grimms' Fairy Tale inspiration.
But if you picked up the 75th Anniversary Edition, you'll find something very different inside. In this reprint, the pictures have been decked out with color. The palette is rich and varied, resembling late period Seuss. Think works like The Lorax and Hunches in Bunches rather than works like The Cat in the Hat and If I Ran the Zoo, which had a far more limited palette offering. The bright coloring changes the mood, too: the Kingdom of Didd becomes a much more vibrant, kid-friendly place with blues and greens aplenty. King Derwin looks far less menacing in his lavender carriage, and purple highlights take some of the dread out of the dungeon.
But the greatest change is in Bartholomew's hat. In the original, the hat was the only source of color, making it stand out and pop against the black-and-white everything else. In the new version, Bartholomew's hat doesn't have the same vibe. Which do you prefer?