TIMELESS SYD HOFF: How a Depression-era cartoonist speaks to the Occupy Movement
By Michael Cavna - Style Section & "Comic Riffs" - The Washington Post – November, 2011
This 1935 cartoon was reprinted this week by Occupy D.C. protestors. (A. REDFIELD [SYD HOFF] / Daily Worker).
MOVEMENTS OF ANY TRUE endurance needs persuasive leaders, impassioned followers and a persistent obstacle or enemy to move against. And then, of course, they need an artist — someone to create at least one distinct and message-imbued image that somehow symbolizes the campaign.
For the masses now occupying Washington if not Wall Street, could that singular artist be a radical satirist who spent the Depression era drawing pseudonymous single-panel cartoons for a Communist daily?
And who died in 2004.
As The Post’s Elizabeth Flock has noted, Freedom Plaza’s Occupy D.C. protestors on Tuesday published their own “official” newspaper, titled The Occupied Washington Post . (No affiliation to our humble news outlet up the street, natch.) And on Page-6 of the Occupied paper is a vintage-looking image signed “A.R.”
In the single-panel cartoon, we see a wealthy couple passing a uniformed panhandler on the sidewalk; the wife says to her husband: “Give him a nickel, sweetheart. After all, you made a couple of million on the war.”
To those readers who really know their cartoon history, “A.R.” stands for A. Redfield — the sometime nom-de-toon of New Yorker cartoonist Syd Hoff.
And to some Occupy Movement protestors, obviously, the leftist satire of Syd Hoff holds a timeless resonance today.
“Syd often said that ‘Society is divided into two classes: the oppressed and the class of the oppressors — [the] bourgeoisie,’ ” Carol Edmonston tells Comic Riffs on Wednesday about her Uncle Syd.
(A. REDFIELD [SYD HOFF] / Daily Worker)
"Anybody who says there's starvation in America ought to have his head examined"
The Hoff/Redfield cartoon reprinted by the Occupied Washington Post appeared in the cartoonist’s first published book, “The Ruling Clawss” (Daily Worker), says Edmonston, who cites two especially telling quotes from her uncle that appeared in his first book.
One quote, she tells Comic Riffs, is this: “There are days when success as a comic artist is not enough. The urge to do battle with evil becomes irresistible and the Walter Mitty in me takes over.”
The other Hoff quote that gives us a measure of the colorful and passionate man, she says, is this:
“It takes not only courage, but also a special kind of skill to become a political cartoonist. The courage is needed because there are always some readers who will be offended by the point of view of an editorial cartoon and will demand the job and maybe the hide of the artist. The skill is demanded because it takes a superior craftsman to portray the likeness of the heroes and villains who strut their stuff on the events of the day.”
Consider that quote and the reader quickly knows: Not only Hoff’s cartoons are timeless. So is his incisiveness about his industry.
Besides his cartoons for such magazines as the New Yorker, Hoff would go on to be known for his children’s books, including “Danny and the Dinosaur” and “Sammy the Seal,” as well as his syndicated “Laugh It Off” cartoons.
Yet at the moment, it’s his Daily Worker cartoons that are finding new life in D.C.’s Occupied territories.
“I'm in the middle of writing a book about Syd’s life, which includes the chapter of his early years in the ‘30s as a radical left-wing cartoonist, which I knew nothing about,” Edmonston tells Comic Riffs. “I'm fascinated by his passion to stand up and give a voice for the working class — the underdog.
“Sad commentary that so many of his early Redfield cartoons are relevant in today's world.”