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Feiffer, Jules (Ralph) 1929-

FEIFFER, Jules (Ralph) 1929-


Born January 26, 1929, in Bronx, NY; son of David (a dental technician, then salesman) and Rhoda (a fashion designer; maiden name, Davis) Feiffer; married Judith Sheftel (a motion picture executive), September 17, 1961 (divorced 1983); married Jennifer Allen (a journalist), September 11, 1983; children: (first marriage) Kate; (second marriage) Halley. Education: Attended Art Students' League, 1946, and Pratt Institute, 1947-48, 1949-51.


Home New York, NY; Martha's Vineyard, MA. Agent Royce Carlton Inc., 866 United Nations Plaza, New York, NY 10017. E-mail


Playwright, cartoonist, and author/illustrator. Assistant to cartoonist Will Eisner, 1946-51; drew syndicated cartoon series "Clifford," 1949-51; held various art jobs, 1953-56, including making slide films, as writer for Terrytoons, and as designer of booklets for an art film; freelance cartoonist, with work published in Village Voice, New York, NY, 1956-97, in Observer, London, England, 1958-66, 1972-2000, and in Playboy, 1959; cartoons syndicated by Publishers-Hall Syndicate and distributed to more than one hundred newspapers in the United States and abroad, 1956-2000. Member of faculty at Yale University School of Drama, 1972-73, Northwestern University, 1996, and Southampton College, 1999; senior fellow of national arts journalism program, Columbia University, 1997. Exhibitions: Retrospective staged at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 2003. Military service: U.S. Army, Signal Corps, 1951-53; worked in cartoon-animation unit.


Authors League of America, Dramatists Guild (member of council), PEN, Writers Guild of America, East.

Awards, Honors

Academy Award for Best Short-Subject Cartoon, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, 1961, for Munro; Special George Polk Memorial Award, 1961; most promising playwright, New York Drama Critics, 1966-67, Best Foreign Play of the Year, London Theatre Critics, 1967, and Outer Critics Circle Award, and Off-Broadway Award, Village Voice, both 1969, all for Little Murders; Outer Critics Circle Award, 1970, for The White House Murder Case; Pulitzer Prize, 1986, for editorial cartooning; best screenplay honor, Venice Film Festival, 1989, for I Want to Go Home; elected to American Academy of Arts & Letters, 1995; honorary D.H.L., Long Island University, 1999; Red Colver Children's Choice Picture Book Award, 2000, for Bark, George; Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award, National Cartoonists Society, 2003; Ian McLellan Hunter Award for Lifetime Achievement in Writing, Writers Guild of America, East, 2004; Harold Washington Literary Award, 2004; Patricia A. Barr Shalom Award, Americans for Peace Now, 2004.



(Illustrator) Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth, Random House (New York, NY), 1961, published with an appreciation by Maurice Sendak, Random House (New York, NY), 1996.

The Man in the Ceiling, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1993.

A Barrel of Laughs, a Vale of Tears, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1995.

Meanwhile . . . , HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1997.

I Lost My Bear, Morrow (New York, NY), 1998.

Bark, George, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1999.

(Illustrator) Florence Parry Heide, Some Things Are Scary, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2000.

I'm Not Bobby!, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2001.

By the Side of the Road, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2002.

The House across the Street, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2002.

The Daddy Mountain, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2004.


Sick, Sick, Sick: A Guide to Non-confident Living, McGraw (New York, NY), 1958, with introduction by Kenneth Tynan, Collins (London, England), 1959.

Passionella and Other Stories, McGraw (New York, NY), 1959.

(Illustrator) Robert Mines, My Mind Went All to Pieces, Dial (New York, NY), 1959.

The Explainers, McGraw (New York, NY), 1960.

Boy, Girl, Boy, Girl, Random House (New York, NY), 1961.

Feiffer's Album, Random House (New York, NY), 1963.

Hold Me!, Random House (New York, NY), 1963.

Harry, the Rat with Women (novel), McGraw (New York, NY), 1963.

(Compiler and annotator) The Great Comic Book Heroes, Dial (New York, NY), 1965, revised edition, Fantagraphics Books (Seattle, WA), 2003.

The Unexpurgated Memories of Bernard Mergendeiler, Random House (New York, NY), 1965.

The Penguin Feiffer, Penguin (London, England), 1966.

Feiffer on Civil Rights, Anti-Defamation League (New York, NY), 1966.

Feiffer's Marriage Manual, Random House (New York, NY), 1967.

Pictures at a Prosecution: Drawings and Text from the Chicago Conspiracy Trial, Grove (New York, NY), 1971.

Feiffer on Nixon: The Cartoon Presidency, Random House (New York, NY), 1974.

Ackroyd (novel), Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1977.

Tantrum: A Novel-in-Cartoons, Knopf (New York, NY), 1979.

Feiffery: Jules Feiffer's America from Eisenhower to Reagan, Knopf (New York, NY), 1982.

Marriage Is an Invasion of Privacy, and Other Dangerous Views, Andrews & McMeel (Kansas City, MO), 1984.

Feiffer's Children: Including Munro, Andrews & McMeel (Kansas City, MO), 1986.

Ronald Reagan in Movie America: A Jules Feiffer Production, Andrews & McMeel (Kansas City, MO), 1988.

Feiffer: The Collected Works, Volume 1, Fantagraphics Books (Seattle, WA), 1989.

Feiffer: The Collected Works, Volume 3, Fantagraphics Books (Seattle, WA), 1991.

Feiffer: The Collected Works, Volume 4, Fantagraphics Books (Seattle, WA), 1997.

Ghost-scripted comic-book series "The Spirit," 1949-51. Contributor to periodicals, including Ramparts.

Feiffer's books have been translated into German, Swedish, Italian, Dutch, French, and Japanese.


The Explainers (satirical review), first produced in Chicago, IL, 1961.

The World of Jules Feiffer, first produced in New Jersey, 1962.

Crawling Arnold (one-act; first produced in Spoleto, Italy, 1961; produced by WEAV-TV, 1963), Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1963.

The Unexpurgated Memoirs of Bernard Mergendeiler (first produced in Los Angeles, CA, 1967; produced with other plays as Collision Course, off-Broadway, 1968), published in Collision Course, edited by Edward Parone, Random House (New York, NY), 1968.

Little Murders (two-act comedy; first produced on Broadway, 1967; produced by Royal Shakespeare Company in London, England, 1967; revived off-Broadway, 1969), Random House (New York, NY), 1968.

God Bless, first produced at Yale School of Drama, New Haven, CT, 1968; produced by Royal Shakespeare Company, 1968.

Dick and Jane: A One-Act Play (also see below; first produced in New York, NY, as part of Oh! Calcutta!, revised by Kenneth Tynan, 1969), published in Oh! Calcutta!, edited by Tynan, Grove (New York, NY), 1969.

The White House Murder Case: A Play in Two Acts [and] Dick and Jane: A One-Act Play (The White House Murder Case first produced in New York, NY, 1970), Grove (New York, NY), 1970.

Feiffer's People: Sketches and Observations Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1969. (first produced in Edinburgh, Scotland, 1968; produced in Los Angeles, CA,)1971.

(With others) The Watergate Classics, first produced at Yale Repertory Theatre, 1973.

Knock-Knock (first produced in New York, NY, 1974), Hill & Wang (New York, NY), 1976.

Hold Me! (first produced in New York, NY, 1977), Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1977.

Grown-ups (first produced in New York, NY, 1981), Samuel French (New York, NY), 1982.

A Think Piece, first produced in Chicago, IL, 1982.

Feiffer's America, first produced in Evanston, IL, 1988.

Carnal Knowledge, first produced in Houston, TX, 1988.

Elliot Loves (first produced in Chicago, IL, 1988), Grove (New York, NY), 1990.

Anthony Rose, first produced in Philadelphia, PA, 1989.

E-mail (one-act play), first produced as part of Short Talks on the Universe, produced in New York, NY, 2002.

A Bad Friend, first produced in New York, NY, 2003.


Little Murders, Twentieth Century-Fox, 1971.

(With Israel Horovitz) VD Blues (produced by Public Broadcasting Service, 1972), Avon (New York, NY), 1974.

Popeye, Paramount, 1980.

(Adapter) Puss in Boots, Columbia Broadcast System/Fox Video, 1984.

I Want to Go Home, Marvin Karmitz Productions, 1989.

Contributor of sketches to productions of DMZ Cabaret, New York; writer for Steve Allen Show, 1964; author of episode "Kidnapped" for Happy Endings (series), American Broadcasting Company, Inc., 1975.


Munro, an animated cartoon based on Feiffer's story, was produced by Rembrandt Films, 1961; The Apple Tree, a musical by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, contains a playlet based on Feiffer's "Passionella," and was produced in New York, NY, 1966; Harry, the Rat with Women was adapted as a play produced at the Detroit Institute of Arts, 1966; Carnal Knowledge was adapted as a motion picture, Avco Embassy, 1971; Grown-Ups was adapted for film and produced by PBS-TV, 1986; Popeye, the Movie Novel, based on Feifer's screenplay, was edited and adapted by Richard J. Anobile, Avon, 1980; Bark, George was adapted as an animated film narrated by John Lithgow, Weston Woods, 2003.

Work in Progress

A full-length animated film for Sony Pictures.


Decades before he published his first self-illustrated children's book in 1993, Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Jules Feiffer was well known to young readers as the illustrator of Norman Juster's classic 1961 novel The Phantom Tollbooth. During the intervening years, he was known to adult readers as the creator of satiric cartoons published in hundreds of newspapers, while his plays have appeared on numerous stages and several, with the artist/playwright's screenplays, have been adapted for film. In the early 1990s Feiffer came full circle, beginning a new phase of his career as a children's book author, and with books such as By the Side of the Road and The House across the Street, has won new fans through his sketchy pen-and-ink drawings and quirky texts.

Born in the Bronx, New York, in 1929, Feiffer was the son of a Polish mother and a father whose unsuccessful business ventures caused money worries to haunt the Feiffer household. The trials of the Great Depression did not help matters in the Feiffer home, and young Jules reacted by escaping into booksmore specifically comic books such as "Detective Comics"and drawing. When Feiffer was approximately seven years of age, he won a gold medal in an art contest sponsored by a New York department store. Knowing that a good job would help him avoid the financial plight of his parents, he decided to become a cartoonist. As Feiffer recalled in The Great Comic Book Heroes: "I . . . drew sixty-four pages in two days, sometimes one day, stapled the product together, and took it out on the street where kids my age sat behind orange crates selling and trading comic books. Mine went for less because they weren't real."

Feiffer studied the comic strips in the pages of the New York Times and the World-Telegram his father brought home after work, salvaged newspapers from garbage cans, and got friends to bring him the comics sections from the newspapers their parents discarded. "To see 'Terry and the Pirates,'" Feiffer explained, "we'd have to get the Daily News, which my family wouldn't allow in the house." The reason: his parentsboth Jewish and both Democratsbelieved that the publisher of the New York Daily News was anti-Semitic.

At age fifteen Feiffer enrolled at the Art Students' League, then studied at the Pratt Institute for a year, taking night courses. Meanwhile, in 1946, through a stroke of luck, he became an assistant to noted cartoonist Will Eisner. "He said I was worth absolutely nothing, but if I wanted to hang out there, and erase pages or do gofer work, that was fine," Feiffer recalled to Gary Groth in Comics Journal. Eisner eventually assigned Feiffer the writing and layout for the comic strip "The Spirit," and in exchange let his young apprentice cartoonist have the space on the last page of his current strip. Thus, the "Clifford" comic strip was born.

"Clifford" came to a close in 1951, when Feiffer was drafted into the U.S. Army during the Korean War. His experiences as part of the military provided Feiffer with the subject he would satirize for most of his remaining career: the workings of the U.S. government. "It was the first time I was truly away from home for a long period of time," Feiffer explained to Groth, "and thrown into a world that was antagonistic to everything I believed in, on every conceivable level. In a war that I was out of sympathy with, and in an army that I despised; [an army that] displayed every rule of illogic and contempt for the individual and mindless exercise of power. [That] became my material."

Released from duty in 1953, Feiffer was at work creating a weekly comic strip for the Village Voice by 1956. "We cut a stiff deal," the cartoonist recalled to a writer for Dramatists Guild Quarterly of his early attempt to get published. "They would publish anything I wrote and drew as long as I didn't ask to be paid." As he planned, Feiffer got a call from an editor at a different publication, who, as the cartoonist recalled, "said, 'oh boy, this guy is good, he's in the Voice, ' and accepted the same stuff his company had turned down when I had come to their offices as an unpublished cartoonist."

With the security of regular cartoon assignments, Feiffer could now refine his style, which was already influenced by the work of illustrator William Steig. By the late 1950s, his cartoons appeared regularly in Playboy, the London Observer, and in newspapers across the United States. Many of these strips have been collected in books such as Feiffer's Album, Feiffer on Nixon, and Feiffer's Children. In 1986 Feiffer was honored with a Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning. He continued to create comic strips on a regular basis for several decades, finally ending his syndicated comic strip in the summer of 2000.

While working as a syndicated cartoonist, Feiffer also began penning plays, and his first drama, Little Murders, was produced on Broadway in 1967. The play was a popular and critical success, winning an Outer Critics Circle Award and a Village Voice Off-Broadway Award, among others. Through the 1980s Feiffer wrote a number of other plays, as well as several screenplays that were produced as major motion pictures. His film Popeye, starring Robin Williams, was released in 1980, and his stage works, which include the autobiographical Grown-ups, The White House Murder Case, and with A Bad Friend, have been produced both in the United States and in Europe.

Feiffer's debut as a children's author came in the early 1990s with The Man in the Ceiling, a story about ten-year-old Jimmy Jibbett and his efforts to win the friendship of the popular Charlie Beemer by expressing a willingness to translate Charlie's stories into cartoons. Cathryn M. Camper noted in Five Owls that The Man in the Ceiling "recognizes that a large part of the formation of an artist takes place in his or her youth. . . . Feiffer conveys . . . this with a sense of humor, combining samples of Jimmy's comics to help tell the tale."

Some of Feiffer's children's books feature their creator's characteristic mature satire even as they entertain younger readers with a humorous tale. His A Barrel of Laughs, a Vale of Tears was described by a Publishers Weekly contributor as "a sophisticatedly silly fairy tale that relaxes storytelling conventions." The topic of road rage prompted by long-distance family auto trips is the focus of By the Side of the Road, which finds the parents of an unruly eight year old making good on their threat: "If you don't stop that now you'll end up on the side of the road." Actually deposited on the side of the road and abandoned, the boy makes a new life for himself, is joined by another abandoned child, and grows to adulthood, occasionally visited by his family and becoming the subject of envy by his stay-at-home brother. While noting that By the Side of the Road is "really for parents," New York Times Book Review contributor Cynthia Zarin wrote that Feiffer "is in top form here."

Feiffer turns to more traditional tales for children with Meanwhile . . . , The Daddy Mountain, and Bark, George, the last a reversal of the old-lady-who-swallowed-a-fly story. Meanwhile . . . draws on a fantasy tradition of a modern sort, as comic-book fan Raymond, pursued by his angry mother, decides to pull the "Meanwhile. . ." dialogue balloon out of his comic book to see if it will transport him somewhere else in a hurry. "Frantic action and the clever theme make this a great read-aloud," concluded School Library Journal contributor Lisa S. Murphy. In The Daddy Mountain, which narrates a small girl's successful attempt at a daunting ascent up onto her father's shoulders, the author captures what Booklist reviewer Jennifer Mattson described as "daddies' special fondness for roughhousing" in illustrations that "are vintage Feiffer," according to Grace Oliff in School Library Journal. A young dog who goes "meow" instead of "arf" is the focus of Feiffer's award-winning Bark, George, which finds the pup's distressed mother hurrying her son off to the local vet to find the source of the problem: he has swallowed a cat. Praising Bark George as the "pairing of an ageless joke with a crisp contemporary look," a Publishers Weekly contributor dubbed Feiffer's simply drawn illustrations "striking" and "studies in minimalism and eloquence." Booklist reviewer Stephanie Zvirin praised Feiffer's "easy to follow" text and added that the author/illustrator's "characters are unforgettable . . . and the pictures burst with the sort of broad physical comedy that a lot of children just love."

I'm Not Bobby finds a young boy determined to be someone else. Refusing to respond to calls for Bobby, he pretends to be a horse, a car, a dinosaur, a giant, and even a space ship in an effort to tune out his mother's calls. Finally, dinner time and fatigue make being Bobby by far the best option, in a book that features "Feiffer's exuberantly drawn signature illustrations," according to a Horn Book contributor.

Dissatisfaction is also the subject of The House across the Street, which finds a young boy wishing he lived in the larger house of a neighborhood friend. While imagining that a wealth of wonderful toys, fabulous dogs, and even a dolphin-filled swimming pool must exist in that amazing house, the boy also conjures up a family in which parents never fight, happy friends come and go, and the house rings with laughter, giving The House across the Street a poignant note while it also captures the whining note of many a "common childhood tune," according to a Kirkus reviewer. Noting that Feiffer captures "a child's anger about . . . adult authority," Booklist contributor Hazel Rochman praised the book for also expressing "a child's loneliness and his soaring imaginative power."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Cohen, Sarah Blacher, editor, From Hester Street to Hollywood: The Jewish-American Stage and Screen, Indiana University Press (Bloomington, IN), 1983.

Contemporary Dramatists, 5th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1993.

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 64, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1991.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 7: Twentieth-Century American Dramatists, 1981, Volume 44: American Screenwriters, 1986.

DiGaetani, John L., editor, A Search for a Postmodern

Theater: Interviews with Contemporary Playwrights, Greenwood Press (New York, NY), 1991.

Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd edition, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1998.

Feiffer, Jules, The Great Comic Book Heroes, Dial (New York, NY), 1965.


American Theatre, May-June, 2003, "Twenty Questions: Jules Feiffer," p. 88.

Back Stage, June 27, 2003, Irene Backalenick, review of A Bad Friend, p. 48.

Booklist, November 15, 1993, Elizabeth Bush, review of The Man in the Ceiling, p. 620; December 1, 1997, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Meanwhile . . . , p. 636; August 19, 1999, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Bark, George, p. 2052; June 1, 2002, Hazel Rochman, review of By the Side of the Road, p. 1742; December 1, 2002, Hazel Rochman, review of The House across the Street, p. 673; May 1, 2004, Jennifer Mattson, review of The Daddy Mountain, p. 1562.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, December, 1993, pp. 120-121; February, 1996, p. 189.

Comics Journal, August, 1988, Gary Groth, "Memories of a Pro Bono Cartoonist"; winter, 2004, "A Thirst for Storytelling."

Dramatists Guild Quarterly, winter, 1987, Christopher Duran, "Jules Feiffer, Cartoonist-Playwright."

Editor & Publisher, May 31, 1986, David Astor, "An Unexpected Pulitzer for Jules Feiffer;" May 29, 2000, Dave Astor, "Feiffer Focus No Longer on Syndication," p. 35.

Five Owls, January-February, 1994, Cathryn M. Camper, review of The Man in the Ceiling, pp. 66-67.

Horn Book, September-October, 1997, p. 557; March-April, 1998, Lauren Adams, review of I Lost My Bear, p. 212; January, 2001, review of Some Things Are Scary, p. 83; November-December, 2001, review of I'm Not Bobby!, pp. 735-736; May-June, 2002, Kristi Beavin, review of The Man in the Ceiling, p. 353; May-June, 2004, Joanna Rudge Long, review of The Daddy Mountain, pp. 310-311.

Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 1997, p. 1110; March 15, 1998, p. 402; November 1, 2002, review of The House across the Street, p. 1611; April 1, 2004, review of The Daddy Mountain, p. 328.

Library Journal, July, 2003, Steve Raiteri, review of The Great Comic Book Heroes, pp. 69-70.

Los Angeles Times, September 30, 1993, Lawrence Christon, "Jules Feiffer Fine-toons His Career," p. E1; June 17, 2000, John J. Goldman, "Swan Song for Feiffer's Dancer," p. D1.

New Leader, July-August, 2003, Stefan Kanfer, "Family Affairs," pp. 41-43.

New York Post, May 26, 2002, "Still Quick on the Draw," p. 62.

New York Times, May 29, 1997, Elisabeth Bumiller, "Jules Feiffer Draws the Line at No Pay from The Voice, " p. B1; January 23, 2000, Josh Schonwald, "Laughs and Learning with Jules Feiffer," p. P2; June 17, 2000, Sarah Boxer, "Jules Feiffer, at Seventy-one, Slows down to a Gallop," p. B1; March 4, 2003, Mel Gussow, "Jules Feiffer, Freed of His Comic Strip Duties, Finds a New Visibility," p. E1; June 10, 2003, Bruce Weber, "Uncle Joe Smiles down on a Family of Old Lefties," p. E1.

New York Times Book Review, November 14, 1993, Jonathan Fast, review of The Man in the Ceiling, p. 57; December 31, 1995, Daniel Pinkwater, review of A Barrel of Laughs, a Vale of Tears; March 15, 1998, Constance L. Hays, review of Meanwhile . . . , p. 24; May 17, 1998, Krystyna Poray Goddu, review of I Lost My Bear, p. 22; August 15, 1999, review of Bark, George, p. 24; November 19, 2000, Jeanne P. Binder, "Things That Go Squish in the Night," p. 44; November 18, 2001, Dwight Garner, "'Better Not Call Me Again. I'm a Monster,'" p. 25; September 29, 2002, Cynthia Zarin, "The Boy Who Willed One Thing," p. 27; October 29, 2002, Cynthia Zarin, review of By the Side of the Road; June 8, 2003, Andrea Stevens, "Jules Feiffer's Communist Manifesto," p. 5; June 27, 2004, p. 14.

New York Times Magazine, May 16, 1976, Robin Brantley, "'Knock Knock' 'Who's There?' 'Feiffer'"; June 15, 2003, Deborah Solomon, "Playing with History," p. 13.

Print, May-June, 1998, Steven Heller, interview with Feiffer, pp. 40-41; May-June, 1999, Carol Stevens, "Baby Teeth," p. 50; September, 2000, Steven Heller, "Feiffer's Last Dance," p. 26.

Publishers Weekly, October 25, 1993, review of The Man in the Ceiling, p. 62; November 27, 1995, review of A Barrel of Laughs, a Vale of Tears, p. 70; January 26, 1998, review of I Lost My Bear, p. 91; June 21, 1999, review of Bark, George, p. 66; October, 2000, review of Some Things Are Scary, p. 76; August 20, 2001, review of I'm Not Bobby, p. 78; May 13, 2002, review of By the Side of the Road, p. 69; October 14, 2002, review of The House across the Street, p. 82; June 30, 2003, review of The Great Comic Book Heroes, p. 59; April 5, 2004, review of The Daddy Mountain, p. 60.

Quill & Quire, November, 1993, p. 40.

School Library Journal, January, 1996, p. 108; September, 1997, Lisa S. Murphy, review of Meanwhile . . . , p. 180; March, 1998, Julie Cummins, review of I Lost My Bear, p. 179; September, 1999, p. 182; January 1, 2001, Maryann H. Owen, review of Some Things Are Scary, p. 101; November, 2001, review of I'm Not Bobby!, pp. 119-120; May, 2002, Wendy Lukehart, review of By the Side of the Road, p. 152; February, 2003, Wendy Lukehart, review of The House across the Street, p. 111; May, 2003, Steve Weiner, "A Found Feiffer," p. 33; June, 2004, Grace Oliff, review of The Daddy Mountain, p. 108.

Time, May 21, 2001, Francine Russo, "A Matter of Medium," p. G8.


Jules Feiffer Online, (February 1, 2005).

Public Broadcasting System Web site, (March 15, 1998), "The Art of Jules Feiffer"; (August 10, 2000) "Power of the Pen."*

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Jules Ralph Feiffer

Jules Ralph Feiffer

American artist and writer Jules Ralph Feiffer (born 1929) was best known for his satirical cartoons, but his artistic creations and acclaim also extended to plays, screenplays, and novels.

Jules Feiffer, who was born on January 26, 1929, in Bronx, New York, to David and Rhoda (nee Davis) Feiffer, always had an interest in drawing. By age five he had won a gold medal in a contest sponsored by John Wanamaker's department store in New York for his picture of Tom Mix arresting outlaws. After graduating from high school, Feiffer studied at the Art Students League and Pratt Institute. From 1946 to 1951 he worked as an assistant to legendary cartoonist Will Eisner, creator of the popular comic book "The Spirit." Feiffer so impressed Eisner with his writing ability that he was given responsibility for scripting "The Spirit." During this period Feiffer also created a comic strip of his own called "Clifford," a Sunday cartoon-page feature about the adventures of a little boy and his dog. His budding career was interrupted in 1951 when he was drafted into the Army. Although military service was repugnant to Feiffer, the two-year hitch actually changed the course of his work.

The Satirist

Before the service, Feiffer said his ambition "was no more and no less than to do a daily comic strip and a Sunday page in whatever style I found." His anger at being in the Army and his rage against authority, however, led him to satire and the desire to make pointed social and political comments through his art. Feiffer's first effort in that direction was the creation of "Munro," the story of a four-year-old boy mistakenly drafted into the Army.

After leaving the military, though, Feiffer had difficulty getting started as a satirist. Unable to interest a publisher in his book of cartoons about "Munro," he drifted from one art job to another between periods of unemployment. Then, in 1956, Feiffer took some of his cartoons to the Village Voice, the weekly newspaper in New York's Greenwich Village that was just getting started. Although it could not pay, the Voice provided Feiffer with a platform and complete freedom to express his thoughts. Feiffer's simple drawings, which combined the commentary of editorial cartoons with the multi-panel structure of comic strips, were an instant success. After two years Feiffer's cartoons from the Voice were compiled into a best-selling book called Sick, Sick, Sick. Then Playboy magazine put him on a $500-a-week retainer and his career was firmly launched.

Feiffer's cartoons attracted attention and a devoted following because they differed so markedly from the norm. His work looked like comic strips, but instead of gags and preposterous situations, Feiffer offered biting vignettes of contemporary life in an attempt to expose society's ills and do something about them. Feiffer spoke of "writing" his cartoons because he believed in the supremacy of wording over illustration. Indeed, while drawing the cartoons came easily, he sometimes rewrote his captions fifteen times.

Characters and Themes

The characters in Feiffer's sharp pen drawings, which included introspective adults, precocious children, nonconformists, politicians, and army generals, experienced and explained emotional anxiety and political upheaval. Feiffer was once described as being "at war with complacency, with the cliche mongers who provide society with meaningless slogans to live by, with the pomposity of officialdom, and with the carefully cultivated dullness of our carefully protected daily lives." Summarizing his own work, Feiffer said that it dealt "with going up against authority and conventional wisdom, and how people use language not to communicate, and the use of power in relationships." Feiffer used his signature character, the dancer in the black leotard, to offer a ray of optimism. He said of her: "Whatever the problems and disasters, and however often hope is dashed, she rises up and dances again. She'll never be defeated by the realities."

Beginning in the 1960s, Feiffer, an outspoken liberal, increasingly concentrated on political themes such as race relations, Vietnam, and the presidency. Of the latter he said, "I really go after the presidents and seem to have a good time slapping them around." Explaining why Reagan was a special target, he said, "I rage at his smugness, ignorance and ideological blindness." Feiffer's rage at presidents and the problems he saw in America, even after nearly four decades of cartooning, never moderated. "When I see something that makes me angry, drawing a cartoon about it provides a temporary 'fix'," he said. "When the system is not corrected overnight—or even in twenty-five years—my temper tends to rise again."

Awards and Publications

In addition to appearing in the Village Voice and Playboy, Feiffer's cartoons were syndicated to more than a hundred newspapers in the United States and abroad and were compiled into numerous books. His work earned him a Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning in 1986, a special George Polk Memorial Award, a Newspaper Guild Page One Award, an Overseas Press Club Award, and a Capital Press Club Award. In 1995 he was elected into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Besides these honors, Feiffer influenced a generation of cartoonists, including "Doonesbury" creator Garry Trudeau, who always credited Feiffer as his guru.

Although cartooning was his anchor, Feiffer's artistic creations and acclaim were wide-ranging. He also wrote plays, screenplays, novels, and teleplays as well as doing illustrations for several books. He won an Academy Award for his 1961 animated feature, "Munro," and wrote the screenplays for "Carnal Knowledge," "Little Murders," "Popeye," and "I Want To Go Home," which was made and released in France. His plays, which included "Little Murders," "The White House Murder Case," and "Elliott Loves," won him two Outer Circle Critics Awards, an Obie, and the London Theatre Critics Award. Feiffer was also named most promising playwright of the 1966-1967 season by New York drama critics. His novels include Harry, the Rat with Women and Ackroyd. Recently he has focued on writing children's books. In 1993 he published The Man in the Ceiling and A Barrel of Laughs, A Vale of Tears was published in 1995. In 1996 Feiffer donated his papers and drawings to the Library of Congress.

Feiffer always tried to be innovative in whatever artistic endeavor he attempted. He once said that as both writer and cartoonist, he enjoyed "understanding, acknowledging, respecting, and then ignoring the limitations of the different mediums I'm working in."

Further Reading

There are numerous books of Feiffer's cartoons, including: Ronald Reagan in Movie America: A Jules Feiffer Production; Feiffer's Children; Marriage Is an Invasion of Privacy and Other Dangerous Views.

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Feiffer, Jules

Jules Feiffer (fī´fər), 1929–, American cartoonist and writer, b. New York City. He began publishing a cartoon strip in the Village Voice in 1956, maintaining his association with the paper until 1997; his strip continued until 2000 in several Sunday papers. Satirizing a world dominated by the atomic bomb and psychoanalysis, the comic strips were especially concerned with the breakdown of communication between government and citizen, black and white, and man and woman. Among his cartoon collections are Sick, Sick, Sick (1958), Feiffer's Album (1963), Jules Feiffer's America (1982), and Feiffer's Children (1986). He received an Academy Award for the animated cartoon Munro in 1961 and the Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning in 1986. Feiffer's best-known play is the black comedy Little Murders (1967); others include The Explainers (1961), a musical; Grown Ups (1981); and A Bad Friend (2003). He has also written two novels, Harry: The Rat with Women (1963) and Ackroyd (1977); screenplays, including those for Carnal Knowledge (1971) and Popeye (1980); a graphic novel, Kill My Mother (2014); a memoir, Backing into Forward (2010); and a number of children's books, including The Man in the Ceiling (1993), I Lost My Bear (1998), I'm Not Bobby! (2001), and A Room with a Zoo (2005).

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