I found this book called Humanities nestled into the Social Science section in a used bookstore in Pittsburgh a few years ago. A thin handsome old spine, I pulled it and was surprised to find full pages of illustrations going along with scathing political text about the state of the world in 1935.
The illustrations were by John Vassos, who was a fairly successful graphic and industrial designer. The text was by his wife Ruth Vassos, and I was taken aback by the cynicism, absurdity and bitterness shown, reminded me more of Crass then anything I’d ever seen from the 30s.
John Vassos was born to Greek parents in Istanbul. A political illustrator for liberal newspapers in his youth, he fled to Britain in time to be drafted into the navy in WWI. Following the war he moved to NYC and worked predominantly in advertising and design. At least from the internet I can find no reference to Ruth Vassos at all (except that she was married to John- surprise surprise).
John and Ruth had about a ten year run of making books like this. John went on to design radios, accordions, advertising, etc… Dover reprinted some of his stuff in the 70s.
Anyway the work speaks for itself. More images if you click below….
PS- and somehow related in my head is an essay by George Orwell I had to read yesterday for a class where he is making fun of political writing and its use of nonsensical metaphors. His example, “The fascist octopus has sung its swan song , the jackboot is thrown into the melting pot”.