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Dina Weinstein

Realistic and Unapologetic, the Zaftig Mamas of Syd Hoff

I love that Jewish women abound in the artwork of children’s book author and cartoonist Syd Hoff (1912–2004). I was a fan of his classic “I Can Read” books in my Cold War-era childhood. But when I read the quirky stories to my sons I began to see a whole different message about gender that had escaped me in my own youth.

Hoff’s zaftig mama is everywhere in his made-in-Miami children’s books and the New Yorker cartoons he produced from 1929 to 1975—as are other archetypal female characters.There are young and innocent girls, tenement-dwelling street toughs, eligible maidens, sexy molls and buxom Bronx Jewish mothers. Hoff portrayed Jewish women realistically and unapologetically, for a general readership.

TUFFY

The artist and author is most famous for the 1958 “I Can Read” book Danny and the Dinosaur. (Hoff bent to the times. In the 1970s age of equal opportunity he published Amy and the Dinosaur.) Now, the 100th anniversary of King Features Syndicate is an occasion to remember Hoff’s two long- running cartoon strips: “Tuffy,” a four-frame strip which ran from 1939 to 1949 and “Laugh It Off,” a one-frame gag cartoon, which ran from 1950 to 1970.

Tuffy was a tough female tenement urchin. “Laugh It Off” consisted of anecdotal, humorous domestic scenes. Looked at as a whole, it becomes apparent that Hoff used this platform to explore and appreciate Jewish women in particular just as Jewish Americans in general were asserting themselves in mainstream culture.


Dina Weinstein, from The Lilith Blog, January 26, 2016.