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Jules Feiffer

Jules Feiffer
Jules Feiffer in 1958 with proof sheets from his first book, Sick Sick Sick (McGraw-Hill, 1958).
Born (1929-01-26) January 26, 1929 (age 87)
Bronx, New York City
Nationality Template:Comics infobox sec/creator nat
Area(s) Cartoonist, author, playwright, screenwriter
Notable works
Feiffer, Carnal Knowledge, Little Murders
Awards Academy Award, 1961
Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning, 1986
Comic Book Hall of Fame, 2004
National Cartoonist Society Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award, 2004
Spouse(s) Judith Sheftel (1961–83; divorced; 1 child)
Jennifer Allen (1983-c. 2013; divorced; 2 children)

Jules Ralph Feiffer (born January 26, 1929)[1] is an American syndicated cartoonist, most notable for his long-run comic strip titled Feiffer. He has created more than 35 books, plays and screenplays. In 1986, he won the Pulitzer Prize for his editorial cartooning in The Village Voice. He currently works as an instructor with the MFA program at Stony Brook Southampton.

Early life

Jules Feiffer was raised in The Bronx, New York City, where he graduated from James Monroe High School in 1947.[2] He won a John Wanamaker Art Contest medal for a crayon drawing of the radio Western hero Tom Mix.[3] Interested in an early age at cartooning, he wrote in 1965 about his childhood:

I came to the field with a more serious intent than my opiate-minded contemporaries. While they, in those pre-super days, were eating up "Cosmo, Master of Disguise"; "Speed Saunders"; and "Bart Regan Spy", I was counting up how many panels there were to a page, how many pages there were to a story – learning how to form, for my own use, phrases like: @X#?/; marking for future reference which comic book hero was swiped from which radio hero: Buck Marshall from Tom Mix; the Crimson Avenger from The Green Hornet...[3]

He read comic strips in the New York World-Telegram newspaper that his father brought home, including Our Boarding House, Alley Oop "and my favorite at the time, Wash Tubbs, with the 'soldier of fortune' hero, Captain Easy".[4] When his father switched to the evening edition of the New York Post, Feiffer absorbed other strips, including Dixie Dugan, The Bungle Family, Nancy (then titled Fritzi Ritz), "and that masterpiece of sentimental naturalism, Abbie an' Slats. I studied that strip – its [Preston] Sturges-like characters, its [William] Saroyanesque plots, its uniquely cadenced dialogue. No strip other than Will Eisner's Spirit rivaled its structure. No strip, except [Milton] Caniff's Terry [and the Pirates], rivaled it in atmosphere."[5]



At age 16, Feiffer began as an assistant to writer-artist Eisner, whose comic strip The Spirit appeared in a seven-page insert in Sunday newspaper comics sections. As Eisner recalled in 1978:

Feiffer walked into my studio after [World War II]. I had an office on Wall Street, as I recall. I forget the year it was, but it couldn't have been earlier than '46 or '47. Feiffer walked in and asked me for a job and said he'd work at any price, which immediately attracted me. He began working as just a studio man – he would do erasing, cleanup... Gradually it became very clear that he could write better than he could draw and preferred it, indeed – so he wound up doing balloons [i.e., dialog]. First he was doing balloons based on stories that I'd create. I would start a story off and say, 'Now here I want the Spirit to do the following things – you do the balloons, Jules.' Gradually, he would take over and do stories entirely on his own, generally based on ideas we'd talked about. I'd come in generally with the first page, then he would pick it up and carry it from there.[6]

Before this, in 1947, when Feiffer asked for a raise, Eisner instead gave him his own page in The Spirit section,[2] where the 18-year-old Feiffer wrote and drew his first comic strip, Clifford (1949–51), published in six newspapers.[2]

Feiffer's strips ran for 42 years in The Village Voice, first under the title Sick Sick Sick, briefly as Feiffer's Fables and finally as simply Feiffer. Initially influenced by UPA and William Steig, the strip debuted October 24, 1956, and 14 months later, Feiffer had a bestseller when McGraw-Hill collected the Village Voice strips as Sick Sick Sick: A Guide to Non-Confident Living (published January 1, 1958). Beginning April 1959, Feiffer was distributed nationally by the Hall Syndicate, initially in The Boston Globe, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Newark Star-Ledger and Long Island Press.[7][8]

His strips, cartoons and illustrations have also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The New Yorker, Esquire, Playboy and The Nation. He was commissioned in 1997 by The New York Times to create its first op-ed page comic strip, which ran monthly until 2000. He was married twice and has three children. His daughter Halley Feiffer is an actress and playwright.[9]

Jules Feiffer's Feiffer (1959), reprinted in Explainers (2008).


Feiffer published the hit Sick, Sick, Sick: A Guide to Non-Confident Living in 1958 (which featured a collection of cartoons from about 1950 to 1956), and followed up with More Sick, Sick, Sick and other strip collections, including The Explainers, Boy Girl, Boy Girl, Hold Me!, Feiffer's Album, The Unexpurgated Memoirs of Bernard Mergendeiler, Feiffer on Nixon, Jules Feiffer's America: From Eisenhower to Reagan, Marriage Is an Invasion of Privacy and Feiffer's Children. Passionella (1957) is a graphic narrative initially anthologized in Passionella and Other Stories, a variation on the story of Cinderella. The protagonist is Ella, a chimney sweep who is transformed into a Hollywood movie star. Passionella was used in a musical, The Apple Tree.

Jules Feiffer's comment on the 2008 election was published in The Village Voice on August 12, 2008.

His cartoons, strips and illustrations have been reprinted by Fantagraphics as Feiffer: The Collected Works. Explainers (2008) reprints all of his strips from 1956 to 1966.[7] David Kamp reviewed the book in The New York Times:

His strip, usually six to eight borderless panels, initially appeared under the title Sick Sick Sick, with the subtitle 'A Guide to Non-Confident Living'. As the Lenny Bruce-ish language suggests, the earliest strips are very much of their time, the postwar Age of Anxiety in the big city; you can practically smell the espresso, the unfiltered ciggies, the lanolin whiff of woolly jumpers. In Feiffer's sixth-ever strip, an advertising executive is rallying his creative team to make nuclear fallout sexy, proposing 'a TV spec called I Fell for Fallout and 'a Mr. and Mrs. Mutation contest – designed to change the concept of beauty in the American mind.' The week after that, a macho poet type confides his most shameful secret to his coffeehouse girlfriend: 'I've never been to Europe.' And the week after that, Feiffer literally puts Oedipus on a psychoanalyst's couch: a hipster in a toga and Ray Charles shades, confessing: 'All right... So I marry her. But did I know she was my mother? It's not like I was sick or something.'[10]

Feiffer has written two novels (1963's Harry the Rat with Women, 1977's Ackroyd) and several children's books, including Henry, The Dog with No Tail, A Room with a Zoo, The Daddy Mountain, and A Barrel of Laughs, a Vale of Tears. He partnered with The Walt Disney Company and writer Andrew Lippa to adapt his book The Man in the Ceiling into a musical. He illustrated the children's books The Phantom Tollbooth and The Odious Ogre. His non-fiction includes the 1965 book The Great Comic Book Heroes.

Feiffer also wrote and drew one of the earliest graphic novels, the hardcover Tantrum (Alfred A. Knopf, 1979),[11] described on its dustjacket as a "novel-in-pictures". Like the trade paperback The Silver Surfer (Simon & Schuster/Fireside Books, August 1978), by Marvel Comics' Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, and the hardcover and trade paperback versions of Will Eisner's A Contract with God, and Other Tenement Stories (Baronet Books, October 1978), this was published by a traditional book publisher and distributed through bookstores, whereas other early graphic novels, such as Sabre (Eclipse Books, August 1978), where distributed through some of the first comic-book stores.

His autobiography, Backing into Forward: A Memoir (Doubleday, 2010), received positive reviews from The New York Times[12] and Publishers Weekly, which wrote:

His account of hitchhiking cross-country invades Kerouac territory, while his ink-stained memories of the comics industry rival Michael Chabon's Pulitzer Prize–winning fictional portrait. Two years in the military gave Feiffer fodder for the trenchant Munro (about a child who is drafted). Such satirical social and political commentary became the turning point in his lust for fame, which finally happened, after many rejections, when acclaim for his anxiety-ridden Village Voice strips served as a springboard into other projects.[13]

He has had retrospectives at the New York Historical Society, the Library of Congress and The School of Visual Arts. His artwork is exhibited at and represented by Chicago, Illinois' Jean Albano Gallery.[14] In 1996, Feiffer donated his papers and several hundred original cartoons and book illustrations to the Library of Congress.[2]

In 2014, Feiffer published "Kill My Mother: A Graphic Novel" through Liveright Publishing.

Feiffer's picture book for young readers, Rupert Can Dance, will be published by FSG in 2014.

Theater and films

Feiffer's plays include Little Murders (1967), Feiffer's People (1969), Knock Knock (1976), Elliot Loves (1990), The White House Murder Case, and Grown Ups. After Mike Nichols adapted Feiffer's unproduced play Carnal Knowledge as a 1971 film, Feiffer scripted Robert Altman's Popeye, Alain Resnais's I Want to Go Home, and the film adaptation of Little Murders.

The original production of Hold Me! was directed by Caymichael Patten and opened at The American Place Theatre, Subplot Cafe, as part of its American Humorist Series on January 13, 1977. The production ran on the Showtime cable network in 1981.[2]


Feiffer is an adjunct professor at Stony Brook Southampton. Previously he taught at the Yale School of Drama and Northwestern University. He has been a Senior Fellow at the Columbia University National Arts Journalism Program. He was in residence at the Arizona State University Barrett Honors College from November 27 to December 2, 2006. In June–August 2009, Feiffer was in residence as a Montgomery Fellow at Dartmouth College, where he taught an undergraduate course on graphic humor in the 20th century.[2]


Jules Feiffer's ad art for the Beat musical The Nervous Set was used on the 1959 cast album (reissued in 2002).

In 1961, he was the recipient of a George Polk Awards for his cartoons, and he won a 1961 Academy Award for his animated short Munro. In 1969 and 1970, his plays Little Murders and The White House Murder Case each won Obie and Outer Circle Critics Awards. The Pulitzer Prize for political cartoons went to Feiffer in 1986.[2] He was elected in 1995 to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.[2] In 2004, he was inducted into the Comic Book Hall of Fame and that same year he received the National Cartoonists Society's Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award.[15] He received the Creativity Foundation's Laureate in 2006.[16] He also won a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Writers Guild of America.[2]


  1. Comics Buyer's Guide #1650; February 2009; Page 107
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 Feiffer, Jules. Backing into Forward: A Memoir, Doubleday, 2010.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Feiffer, Jules. The Great Comic Book Heroes (The Dial Press, New York, first trade paperback edition, 1977), p. 12. ISBN 978-0-8037-3045-8. Ellipses after "Green Hornet" in original text.
  4. Feiffer, The Great Comic Book Heroes, pp. 12–13
  5. Feiffer, The Great Comic Book Heroes, p. 13
  6. "Will Eisner Interview", The Comics Journal No. 46 (May 1979), p. 37. Interview conducted Oct. 13 and 17, 1978
  7. 7.0 7.1 Feiffer, Jules. Explainers: The Complete Village Voice Strips (1956–1966), Fantagraphics Books, 2008.
  8. "The Press: Sick, Sick, Well" Time, February 9, 1959. WebCitation archive.
  9. Pisarro, Carla (July 7, 2008). "Halley Feiffer's Indie Success on Stage and Screen". The New York Sun. Retrieved 2009-03-02. . Archived March 19, 2011 at the Wayback Machine.
  10. Kamp, David. "Cartoons for Grown-Ups", The New York Times "Sunday Book Review", October 19, 2008. WebCitation archive.
  11. Tallmer, Jerry. "The Three Lives of Jules Feiffer", NYC Plus No. 1, April 2005. WebCitation archive.
  12. Kakutani, Michiko (March 17, 2010). "From an Artist of Anxiety, an Ink-Stained Memoir". The New York Times. . WebCitation archive.
  13. "Nonfiction Reviews: 11/30/2009", Publishers Weekly, November 30, 2009. WebCitation archive.
  14. Jean Albano Gallery – Jules Feiffer. WebCitation archive.
  15. Gardner, Alan. "Jules Feiffer to Receive Lifetime Achievement Award", The Daily Cartoonist, January 30, 2007. Retrieved March 3, 2009. WebCitation archive.
  16. "2006 Laureate Prize Winner: Jules Feiffer – Arts", Creativity Foundation. WebCitation archive.

External links

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