By chance the other day, I stumbled on the Wikipedia entry of a Hungarian cartoonist named Victor Vashi. Vashi was an artist active during the Cold War, and along with a satirical coloring book about Nikita Kruschev, he penned an exquisite book about the rise of Communism.
Titled “The Red Primer for Children and Diplomats,” its a Mad Magazine version of 20th century history.
All these years later, the owner of www.redprimer.com built a website, assembled a PDF and offers the book again for a whole new generation of readers. For that, I thank said website owner, because the book is a real treat.
Artistically speaking, the illustrations are the kind you would expect to see on the editorial pages of a newspaper. They make work of symbolism, labels and then-current events to get their point across.
(This is perfectly logical of course, since Vashi “cartooned his way through the years of Nazi and Soviet occupation of his country” and worked as an editorial cartoonist for newspapers and newsletters in Europe and America.)
The book was published in 1967, when the entire communist system was still at the height of success. Looking back years later, its amazing that Vashi’s criticisms mostly proved accurate, and I can’t help but wonder what he would have to say about the eventual decline and collapse of the Soviet Union and the current state of China. He’d definitely rip into Cuba, which recently admitted things aren’t turning out how it hoped.
One minor warning, skip the website version of the “Red Primer” if you’re bothered by typos and go straight to the PDF for what I suspect is an accurate recreation of the actual book.
Otherwise, just sit back and enjoy this amazing snapshot of 1960s political humor.
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