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Jules Feiffer

FEIFFER, JULES - Feiffer Village Voice promo cartoon for his famous strip with many regular characters: Huey and Bernard, The Dancer, etc. 1950s

Media Type: Pen and Ink
Art Type: Strip Art
Artists: Jules Feiffer All

Jules Feiffer is widely regarded as one of the most famous and influential American satirists of the 20th century. He started his career co-writing episodes of Will Eisner's 'The Spirit' (1940-1952) and creating his own gag comic 'Clifford' (1949-1951). Feiffer, however, made his strongest impact as an editorial cartoonist. His comic series 'Feiffer' (1956-1997) broke new ground by tackling taboos other cartoonists did not address. He effectively used his comic strip as an editorial column. His characters openly discussed relationships, sex, depression, family troubles, current events and existential angst. Voicing his strong personal opinions about political and social matters through his characters, Feiffer opened doors for many other alternative cartoonists. He also created the satirical graphic novel 'Tantrum' (1979) and the 'Kill My Mother' (2014-2018) trilogy, a pastiche of detective noir. Additionally gaining recognition as an author, playwright and screenwriter, his most enduring children's books are 'Munro' (1959) and 'The Man in the Ceiling' (1993). His play 'Little Murders' (1967) was well recieved, produced in New York and London, and made into a movie in 1971. Feiffer also wrote the script for the Alan Arkin movie 'Carnal Knowledge' (1971). With his influential book 'The Great Comic Book Heroes' (1965), Feiffer wrote one of the first essays on superhero comics. Jules Feiffer’s large body of work earned him a strong following among adult readers and many awards, including a 1986 Pulitzer Prize.

When Jules Feiffer debuted as a cartoonist in the mid-1950s, he had a hard time trying to sell his work. Initially every publication rejected them. His cartoons were difficult to pigeonhole. They used a comic strip format, but weren't adventure stories or gags with wacky characters. Instead, they featured common people talking about recognizable everyday issues. Because of their unusual style and content, most editors had no clue how to market them. While his applications always ended in rejections, Feiffer did notice that all these editors had a copy of the alternative weekly newspaper The Village Voice on their desk. He figured that if he was able to get his cartoons printed in this magazine, other editors would notice him soon. Therefore Feiffer focused all his efforts on The Village Voice, even offering to work for free. This was a proposal they couldn't reject and so, on 24 October 1956, Feiffer's comic strip debuted in The Village Voice. Originally titled 'Sick, Sick, Sick', with the subtitle 'A Guide to Non-Confident Living', it later changed to 'Feiffer's Fables' and eventually simply to 'Feiffer'.

When Feiffer debuted in 1956, most mainstream media in the USA kept up a facade, portraying only people with happy and carefree lives. Controversies were deliberately swept under the carpet. If they had to be discussed, they were kept vague to avoid offending or disturbing audiences. Especially newspaper comics and cartoons focused on simple, family friendly gags and stories. Feiffer had built up many frustrations over the years. At home, in school and in the army he and everybody else were supposed to never question authority. Nobody was allowed to talk about anything remotedly risqué or upsetting. He was sure that he wasn't the only person who was fed up with these unspoken social taboos. His very first editorial cartoon summarized his feelings perfectly. A man complains that he is literally worried "sick, sick, sick" to his stomach. He summarizes everything that gives him stress, until two other men tell him to "shut up!". But as they leave the scene, they too grab their bellies, obviously as sick as him.

Characters: Feiffer's cartoons don't have many recurring characters. The most recognizable duo are the brainless womanizer Huey and his timid sidekick Bernard, who often discuss sex and relationships. His most iconic individual character is "The Dancer", an unnamed female ballerina in a black leotard. The Dancer often holds a monologue about a current affair, a specific feeling or to welcome "a new season". She expresses these topics through an interpretative dance. The Dancer was inspired by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers musicals. Feiffer also often attended stage performances by modern dance companies. It struck him that the dancers expressed all their emotions in movement. By letting his Dancer character "dance" about a topic, it made his cartoons more visually interesting. It was also far more fun to draw than characters just standing around.


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