Monday, 9 January 2012

Recommended: Jules Feiffer

George's Moon (reprinted in Passionella & Other Stories)
by Jules Feiffer

DAVE SIM:
(from Note From The President, Cerebus #109, April 1988)
In anticipation of doing "Walking on the Moon" inspired by the Judge in Jules Feiffer's Little Murders, I have been surrounding myself with Feiffer Totems... Passionella & Other Stories including George's Moon a major inspiration for Book Seven [of Church & State], the original stage play of Little Murders (which Steve Bissette loaned to me and is never getting back. Sorry, Steve), Sick, Sick, Sick an early Feiffer collection, the Lonely Machine and Hostileman (the best comic book work ever published in Playboy) and, most significantly, Feiffer's interview in the September 1971 issue of Playboy.

It was the first issue of Playboy I ever bought for myself... all of fifteen years old I was. At that time a dollar would buy five comic books, so it was quite an investment. It had Gilbert Shelton's Feds & Heds game in it, fiction by Irwin Shaw, Kurtzman's Annie Fannie.

But the highlight was the Feiffer interview. 
Playboy Magazine:
Right: the October 1965 issue contains Jules Feiffer's essay 'The Great Comic Book Heroes'
Left: the September 1971 issue contains the Jules Feiffer interview

Everything a fifteen year old needed to know about the world is contained in it. He talks about dope, getting laid, not getting laid, Vietnam, Lyndon Johnson, random violence, politics, the snob appeal of the Village Voice. It is amazing to see how much history has come-to-pass exactly as he envisioned it; how many insights he had into the workings of the American political system... insights that would have been dismissed as leftlib paranoia at the time (remember this was a year before Watergate) but which have gradually become conventional wisdom; common sense.

I owe an enormous debt because he answered all of the questions I had about being a grown-up and being creative for a living. The story that sticks in every comic fan's mind about Jules Feiffer is the one he relates in his wonderful book The Great Comic Book Heroes. He describes going to work for Will Eisner as an assistant. One of his first tasks was to sign "Will Eisner" to the stories and (everybody on three) he was instantly better at it than Eisner was. 

I think more than anything else, this was a major leg up for a lot of would-be Eisner's. He took the fannish delight in duplicating an idol's signature (to this day when people ask me if I'll sign their counterfeit Cerebus No. 1, I offer them a choice of Neal Adams or Frank Frazetta) and raised it from a petty ego-thing to a rich and on-going tradition. 

That Feiffer became Feiffer and not a substitute Eisner is important as well, because it ended the traditional master/apprentice relationship. A teenaged Feiffer could seek out Will Eisner Studios and offer to do any kind of work, just to be able to be there; to learn. The teen-age Dave Sim had no such option. What could I do for Feiffer? He drew his own stuff. He wrote his own stuff. He lettered his own stuff. The rest of the time he wrote novels, plays. He was self-contained. 

So I became self-contained.

And in large measure, it was because of that interview and the clarity of vision that shone through. It ends with Feiffer saying he hoped his comments wouldn't lead anyone to despair. In my case, nothing could be further from the truth and I wanted to take this opportunity to thank him publicly. Words are inadequate to describe my admiration. Suffice to say his work and his success, to me, represent the high water mark in the comic book medium. 

Hell.

When I'm done Cerebus I'll probably write a play.
Cerebus #107 (February 1988)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard

Books of Jules Feiffer's comics and cartoons are available from Fantagraphics Books.

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