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‘Hejji’: Dr. Seuss’s Awesomely Surreal Comic Strip From 1935

Like a lot of people, I grew up with Theodor Geisel, alias Dr. Seuss, as a huge part of my childhood. Books like Cat in the Hat and Oh, The Places You’ll Go helped me learn how to read, and the Chuck Jones version of How The Grinch Stole Christmas! is still a holiday tradition at my house. But until this week, I had no idea that two years before his book was published, Dr. Seuss created a sadly short-lived newspaper comic strip called Hejji — and it turns out that it’s one of his most interesting works.Running in newspapers for less than a year in 1935, Hejji told the story of the title character, a traveler who found himself in the strange land of Baako, a mountaintop country that’s equal parts Tibet, the Middle East and Whoville, the perfect setting for Seuss’s bizarre but friendly creatures. As an outsider, Hejji inadvertently gets on the bad side of Baako’s absolute ruler, The Mighty One, who responds by having him thrown to the wombats:

Of course, it turns out that the Mighty One isn’t actually a bad guy, he’s just stressed out from his attempts to woo the Fair One, an allegedly beautiful maiden who I don’t think is ever actually seen in the comic, and who has vowed not to marry him until he can blow perfectly circular smoke rings:

Unfortunately, try as he might, the Mighty One just can’t pull it off, so he enlists Hejji to assist him on a series of journeys to gather increasingly impressive items in the hopes that one of them will be enough to win her heart. That becomes the driving plot of the series, with Hejji and the Mighty One’s adventures mirroring the type of stuff you’d see from Uncle Scrooge dragging his nephew Donald around the world in search of treasure when he showed up twenty years later.

As expected, the whole thing is done with Seuss’s signature charm and silliness, but what surprised me about these was just how good they are. That might sound like I’m underselling the good Doctor, but the storybooks he’d become famous for aren’t even close to an indication of how great he was at making actual comics. He pulls off the kind of tricks that other guys wouldn’t catch onto for decades, like drawing a single scene that was broken up into smaller panels, with a lettering style that blows his contemporaries away.

And to put all that into perspective, Hejji was running a full three years before Action Comics #1 hit the stands. As a work of pure comics, it feels like it’s easily twenty or thirty years ahead of its time.

It even foreshadows some of Seuss’s own later work. The conjoined beards seen in the first strip above would make an appearance in The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T, a surreal live action musical movie Seuss wrote and designed that was so underrated that even Seuss himself hated it. More familiarly, though, was a scene where he recycled a gag from one of his early editorial cartoons about stacking up turtles…

…that he would go on to use again in one of his most famous books.

Unfortunately, the strip was not a big hit and to this day, it’s never been fully reprinted, with some strips presumed lost forever. But on the bright side, comic historian and archivist Craig Yoe — who also put together collections of other amazing, obscure rarities like Dan Decarlo’s Jetta and the works of Golden Age madman Boody Rogers — put a bunch together in his Golden Collection of Klassic Krazy Kool Kids’ Komics. And even better, he’s put a solid dozen of them up on the web, including my favorite of the bunch:

For more, check out I.T.C.H.: The International Team of Comics Historians, and bask in the strange, wonderful glow of some incredible stories from one of the 20th century’s most beloved creators.

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