Sam Gross — a cartoonist best known for his panels dealing with precocious animals in The New Yorker—has ventured onto treacherous ground in this collection.
The subtitle, jacket copy, and a brief afterword take pains to point out that these drawings, all of which involve the swastika, are meant to be funny, in an attempt to take the sting out of that powerful symbol of evil.
But the most successful of the cartoons here are not so much funny as they are wry. The best of the bunch show ordinary people accepting the swastika as an integral part of their world’s decor, quietly satisfied at the fetishistic sense of belonging it confers while stupidly unaware of any darker connotations it may carry. Several panels make an explicit link between the swastika and various pests — usually insect — nicely suggesting the insidious nature of evil as it infests an otherwise humdrum world and comes to be accepted as a minor nuisance at best.
Gross’ work here does not rise to the level of such masterful predecessors as Chaplin, Lubitsch, Brooks, and Spiegelman, whose success at satirizing Nazism was limited at best, but it does raise important questions about the limits of satire and the power of symbols. This is a volume worth owning, if only for the thoughts it will provoke.