Syd Hoff’s Teeth: The Leftist Satire of A. Redfield

Redfield's The Ruling Clawss (1935): title pageWhile he was contributing to the New Yorker as Syd Hoff, he was also contributing to the Daily Worker and New Masses as A. Redfield — the pseudonym he adopted for his radical work.  The Ruling Clawss (Daily Worker, 1935) collects his cartoons originally published in the Communist daily.  Contrary to what all published biographies (except for the one in Julia Mickenberg’s and my Tales for Little Rebels) allege, Hoff’s first collection of cartoons was not Feeling No Pain (Dial, 1944).  His first such collection — and, in fact, his first published book — was The Ruling Clawss.  Here are a few selections.

Redfield's The Ruling Clawss (1935): "I wish mother would let me live like that for six months so I could write a novel."

Hoff mocks this bourgeois “artist” as a voyeur with no understanding of true suffering.

Redfield's The Ruling Clawss (1935): "... we who turn the wheels of industry ..."

This wealthy, well-fed speaker attempts to align himself with the workers.  He’s also oblivious to how thoroughly he is failing.  The workers’ stony expressions make that failure quite clear to us, though.

Redfield's The Ruling Clawss (1935): "Anybody who says there's starvation in America ought to have his head examined."

If you tuned in to Fox News during the presidency of George W. Bush, you would have heard sentiments similar to those expressed above.

Redfield's The Ruling Clawss (1935): "Give him a nickel, sweetheart. After all, you made a couple of million on the war."

In what may be the most acid cartoon in The Ruling Clawss, Hoff aims at those who profit from war, but remain indifferent to its human costs.

Redfield's Ruling Clawss (1935): "I'm against unemployment insurance — it would make people lazy"

Hoff attacks the still-current conservative argument that suffering is somehow ennobling or motivating.  Only someone who has never suffered could make such a claim.

Redfield's Ruling Clawss (1935): "Aren't you exaggerating just a little bit, Mr. Redfield?"

In “Social Satire,” an essay by Hoff (as Redfield) included as an afterword, the artist argues that most contemporary satirists are not sharp enough: “Today we have a new group of satirists who, at the same time that they bite the bourgeoisie, use only their lips, but not their teeth” (180).  He singles out Peter Arno, Otto Soglow (The Little King), Harold Gray (Little Orphan Annie), Sidney Smith (The Gumps), Chester Gould (Dick Tracy), and Percy Crosby (Skippy) for particular criticism.  He praises only Art Young, “the greatest satirist of his day.”  Everyone else falls short.  They “are talented and funny, but . . . their comedy is all too often a whitewash for people and conditions that, in reality, are not funny” (183).

Hoff (1912-2004) was something of a renaissance man in the field of cartooning.  He wrote syndicated comic strips, satirical cartoons (both with and without teeth), children’s books, and even a 400-page illustrated history of political cartooning.  All told, he was the author, illustrator, or author-illustrator of over 100 books.  Only a few of those books betray the political commitment of his youth — notably, Gentleman Jim and the Great John L (1977) and Boss Tweed and the Man Who Drew Him (1978).  The latter book is about Thomas Nast, another satirist who — like Hoff — created art that, sometimes, sunk sharp teeth into the powerful.

Redfield's Ruling Clawss (1935): left endpaper Redfield's Ruling Clawss (1935): right endpaper

Related posts:

27 Replies to “Syd Hoff’s Teeth: The Leftist Satire of A. Redfield”

  1. Thanks for this. They’re excellent satirical cartoons perfectly capturing the global situation today: the continuing problem of the ruling class and its lack of perspective. I hadn’t seen them before and I’m very glad I have now.

  2. Thanks, excellent stuff. Would that the New Yorker had this kind of guts today!

    Hoff would’ve had a field day with that foreclosing law firm that held a Homeless Halloween party. It’s such a good example of the kind of disconnect he illustrated in in comics.

  3. What wonderful reminders that society fluctuates but rarely changes. The veteran beggar/war profiteer cartoon is a particularly potent (and sad) commentary. Thanks so much for posting!

  4. Good satire is timeless. It may become out of date for a spell, but the human condition and man’s propensity to repeat the mistakes of history will invariable make it “in” and relevant again.

  5. Regarding the cartoon about starvation where all the people seated around the table are very overweight and fat as opposed to the poor back then who were skinny from lack of food.
    Today it is the poor that are usually obese and the wealthy are thin because they can afford to go to the gym or have a trainer.

  6. Note the legless veteran’s eyes–blind, from mustard gas. Just like the last 10 years, “SUPPORT THE TROOPS!” is just a bludgeon to shut up people against war. They really mean “SUPPORT THE TROOPS–as political props. Then, forget ’em.”

  7. Have you ever seen how the dogma of the conservative strip “Mallard Fillmore” tends to get in the way of it, you know, actually having any humor?

    Same thing with this stuff. Attack propaganda for the sake of agenda, and to heck with being funny.

  8. As Yogi Berra said, it’s deja vu all over again. Damn, can’t we move on, evolve, and understand that we’re all related, are 50th cousins of each other, if not way closer. Maybe if we did, satirists would be out of work. OK, I get it, we need satirists, but who’re up to the calibre of Syd Hoff. Kudos to him.

  9. Ooh, I didn’t know about these! These are sharp.

    It shouldn’t be surprising that he praised Art Young, as Young was the most accomplished ultra-leftist cartoonist of the day, but also because Young would have been Hoff’s boss at the New Masses, so there is a smidgen of sucking-up involved.

  10. Art Young was never an editor at The New Masses.

    The cartoonists Hoff/Redfield singles out for criticism are onetime leftists like Soglow, or outright conservatives like Grey and Gould. In fact, Those two did vicious satirical work, but more in the guise of melodrama than comedy.

    Leftists still produce biting and hilarious satire. See the political cartoons in the London Guardian – way past what passes for ‘cutting edge’ on these shores.

  11. True, Peteykins is incorrect in naming Art Young as Hoff’s “boss at New Masses.” Young and Hoff both contributed, but Crockett Johnson was the Art Editor of New Masses (from 1936 to 1940, anyway). Young was Editor of (and contributor to) the MassesNew Masses‘ predecessor. I use “predecessor” a bit loosely here. The Espionage Act shut down the Masses in December 1917, and The Liberator took its place in February 1918. In 1924, that publication merged with Workers’ Monthly. In 1925, ex-Masses and ex-Liberator writers formed New Masses.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.