A new book reprints a 1935 collection of cartoons by A. Redfield, the cartoonist for the New York City newspaper published by the Communist Party, The Daily Worker. But the real identity of A. Redfield was kept a secret for decades, and was actually famed gag cartoonist and author Syd Hoff (1912-2004), famous for his children's books like Sammy the Seal, and Danny and the Dinosaur, which is being made into a live-action movie.
As late as 2000, entrenched as an 88 year old beloved children's book author, Hoff wrote in a letter about his time in the 1930s as a socialist cartoonist and added, "These remarks should not be printed because they'd destroy me as a 'children's author!' Please refrain!'"
He may never have recovered from the 1950s, when McCarthyist communist hunts forced him explain and justify his work as A. Redfield to the FBI, "I do not now or did not in the past at any time espouse the doctrine of Communism as I now know it." He may have been able to keep his secret from the general public, but not from the FBI.
The book is a fascinating look into the issues of the 1930s through the lens of a communist cartoonist. And they certainly resonate in today's political and economic environment.
Many of the cartoons are just making fun of the rich for being fat, lazy, exploitative, and callous.
There are plenty of cartoons about racism — most about racial economic disparity, but this one about horrible racist violence hits hard.
Many are about unions and strikes, attacking scabs, strikebusters, and the police, for their harassment and jailing of demonstrators.
Yet we can't let Redfield/Hoff off the hook for his siding with Stalinist Soviet Union (no matter what he said to the FBI in 1952).
I like these cartoons, and I think that, aside from his views on the USSR based on a lack of information, Redfield/Hoff generally has his heart in right place. But I found the Afterword, which he wrote on the book's initial publication in 1935 especially interesting. He excoriates the mainstream cartoons in publications like The New Yorker, where he would to on to have great success, as toothless satire, only serving to humanize the "bourgeoisie" by showing them doing funny, silly things in the bourdoir or nightclub.
"In other words, the fascists and warmongers are little lambs who do their parts in contributing to the merriment of a nation."
Cartoons and cover image reprinted with the permission of the book's publisher, The New York Review of Books