David Auerbach on literature, tech, film, etc.

Tag: feiffer

Jules Feiffer: Backing Into Forward, A Memoir

There is no mention of I Want to Go Home in this book.1


1 As much as I love Feiffer’s drawing, The Great Comic Book Heroes, and Little Murders, there has always seemed to be an emptiness in his writing, or maybe not an emptiness but a pointlessness, the same pointlessness found in Philip Roth or William Gaddis. Feiffer’s self-anointed position is that of truthteller, the man who excoriates hypocrisy and reveals the unconscious anxieties of society. Call it the Yaddo mindset. The problem, on display in the memoir, is that when the same standard isn’t applied to one’s self, it’s rather embarrassing. By burying the worst (I hope) thing that he was ever associated with (“It could have been a lot different, a better movie, if I had been present,” he says in his Onion interview), Feiffer seems to be practicing nihilism in the service of self-aggrandizement, a forgivable sin in all but the self-anointed truthteller. He has always been at his best when at his most visceral, in Tantrum and Little Murders, and at his worst when in the role of a condescending observer, as with Carnal Knowledge and, alas, much of his own strip.

Attention truthtellers: do not write your autobiography!

Little Miss Sunshine

This sometimes amusing farce gives me the opportunity to plug a few far greater comedies that it echoes:

Smile also shares the beauty contest motif, but works it into a small town setting where the teen beauty pageant becomes an exhausting force that draws out suppressed pain and disappointment. Bruce Dern, who was mostly known for playing psychos, does an uncanny job suggesting all that is wrong with the average small-town citizen. Barbara Feldon is also amazing as the disillusioned ex-winner turned ice queen pageant director. Yet it’s not heartless, and the small degree to which the characters can still genuinely emote is touching.

Little Murders is heartless. It was directed by Alan Arkin, who has the best role in LIttle Miss Sunshine, and he did an appropriately ghastly job with Jules Feiffer’s script. Elliott Gould plays a catastrophically depressed photographer in New York in the bad old days of random violence, anomie, and paranoia. Awful things happen. It’s constructed as a series of setpieces, but enough of them are brilliant to keep things moving along. Donald Sutherland’s reverend probably has the best bit, but I’ve always had a weakness for the scene where Gould returns to his parents to be consoled and…I won’t give it away.

And as far as pre-teen beauty pageants go, I think Chris Morris (scroll down to “BRASS EYE”) had the best, shortest commentary on it all.

Will Eisner, RIP

Will Eisner, beloved author of The Spirit, had one of the longest careers, stretching from the 30’s to the present-day. Along with George Herriman, he was one of the early masters of the topology of the page (this Spirit splash page is the best example I could find on the web), and as Jules Feiffer has pointed out, his were some of the most Jewish superhero comics of the time.

Two good pieces on Eisner’s work and its importance are Michael Barrier’s Will Eisner: Moved by the Spirit, which only begins to describe Eisner’s incredible graphic and narrative sensibility, and Jules Feiffer’s The Great Comic Book Heroes. I can’t find it on the web, so here’s an excerpt:

Eventually Eisner developed story lines that are perhaps best described as documentary fables–seemingly authentic when one reads them, but impossible after the fact. There was the one about Hitler walking around in a Willy Lomanish middle world: subways rolling, Bronx girls chattering, street bums kicking him around. His purpose in coming to America: to explain himself, to be accepted as a nice guy, to be liked. Silly when you thought of it, but for eight pages, grimly convincing.

Or the man who was a million years old–whose exploits are being read about by two young archeologists of the future who discover, in mountain ruins, the tattered remains of an old Spirit pamphlet, which details his story: the story of hte oldest man in the world, cursed to live forever for being evil, until on the top of a mountain, in combat with the Spirit, he plunges into the ocean and drowns. “Ridiculous story,” say those archeologists of the future as they finish the last page; these being their final words, for coming up behind them is that very old man, his staff raised high to crush their skulls, to toss them over the mountain edge into the ocean, and then to dance away, singing.

I collected Eisners and studied them fastidiously. And I wasn’t the only one. Alone among comic book men, Eisner was a cartoonist other cartoonists swiped from.

And he still is. Whenever I pick up a modern semi-alternative adventure/mystery/noir/etc. comic, Feiffer’s panel layouts are everywhere. And so are his fables, which lived on in everything from EC Comics to The Sandman.

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