Academic journal article The Mailer Review

Walking into the Zeitgeist: A Conversation with Jules Feiffer

Academic journal article The Mailer Review

Walking into the Zeitgeist: A Conversation with Jules Feiffer

Article excerpt

Of the artists and writers who most effectively captured, characterized and commented on the evolving American scene from World War II to the twenty-first century, Norman Mailer and Jules Feiffer would have to be near the top of any list. In the following interview with Mark Olshaker, the noted cartoonist-illustrator-author-playwright-screenwriter-teacher reflects on his and Mailer's times, their legacies, how the Village Voice made his career, and what it means to be a "permanently enraged Jewish cartoonist."  The conversation took place on December 7, 2013 at the dining table of Feiffer's home in East Hampton, New York. Mark's wife Carolyn was also present and added to the frequent laughter. 

Mark Olshaker: Norman always said that as much as he liked Brooklyn Heights, he never got any work done there because he couldn't resist the urge to socialize all the time. He said he had to go to Provincetown to work.

Jules Feiffer: Yeah, here it's great working. We have a few friends that we see and it's terrific and the living is much easier. If I were younger, I'd be living in New York City, but I can't walk the way I used to; I can't hear a goddam thing. And all the attractions of the city don't make any sense to me. I'm an adolescent living in an old man's body. It's much easier here because I've got a car, and I used to walk miles a day but I can't do that anymore. It's just too frustrating now in the city; it's not pleasant. I mean I have no nostalgia for it. I love it out here. I was in a small house in South Hampton which my daughter, who was living in Pennsylvania, decided to move into. So she's here. It's nice.

Olshaker: Jules, how did you get started as a cartoonist and an illustrator?

Feiffer: Well I got started when I was five years old, when my mother gave me a pencil. Or maybe I was three years old, I don't know, but I've been drawing all my life. I love comic strips, which were some things to love in the 1920s and early '30s. I was born in '29, so I became aware of this stuff when I was 22 or 23, and the Sunday supplements were huge. We think of technology as making things better but the fact is that these forms got worse and worse as the years went on. Back in the '20s and '30s, the comic strips were in their glory forms; they were the universe we wanted to sink into. There were colorful Sunday supplements before movies had color, or any real color. And there weren't many competing forms of entertainment. So that and radio were the universes that the people who wanted entertainment treasured--and black and white movies that you went to once a week. These were the forms that got us through the Depression. And much more cheerfully than any form of entertainment that has got us through the recent recession.

Olshaker: In your autobiography you talk about how you marveled at the story that could be told in eight panels on Sunday.

Feiffer: Yes, eight or twelve panels, and the level of the work, the quality of the work. I have a considerable library of these strips that I loved as a kid, and not only do they hold up, some are better than I thought they were.

Olshaker: And you're still doing it. So you're eighty-three years old and you're still a kid?

Feiffer: Like a lot of writers and artists, the difference between us and the real world is that we still are in touch with our feelings and our thoughts and what we were like as children. When what the adult world basically demands to let you into it, is that you get amnesia about all that; that to make it in the world, you've got to stop thinking the way you did because that's like a kid, because you're going to make a fool of yourself. All of that you're supposed to give up, so outside of the excesses you get when you drink too much or over-drug, which gets you back in touch with that person, and there are both highly irresponsible and sometimes dangerous ways, you tend to forget it because when parents talking to children don't know what they're talking about because they were never those kids. …

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