‘Backing into Forward: A Memoir’: Jules Feiffer’s comic and comics genius reviewed

March 18, 2010 | 3:49 a.m.

In the Times’ Sunday Calendar book review section, Josh Lambert, a New York University assistant professor and author, took a look at “Backing Into Forward: A Memoir” by Jules Feiffer, a popular cartoonist, satirist and author who also penned scripts for Will Eisner’s “The Spirit.” Though Lambert laments the dissolving popularity of comic strips in relation to graphic novels, Hero Complex thinks they can co-exist.  Here’s an excerpt:

Comic

Whether newspapers live or die, the prognosis for the comic strip doesn’t look promising. The extinction of the form not much more than a century after its birth would represent only a very minor tragedy too, given the rise of the graphic novel — who would shed a tear for “Hägar the Horrible” in the age of “Fun Home” and “Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth”? — except it would also mean we no longer live in a world with a berth reserved for the likes of Jules Feiffer.

True, Feiffer created much more than just comic strips. He has written two novels and a handful of children’s books, illustrated Norman Juster’s children’s classic “The Phantom Tollboth” and scripted off-Broadway plays as well as the films “Little Murder” and “Carnal Knowledge.” His first collection of long-form comics, “Passionella and Other Stories,” made the bestseller lists in 1959, and the animated short based on his military satire “Munro” garnered an Oscar. Yet Feiffer’s legacy will be his Pulitzer Prize-winning comic strip, which ran weekly in the Village Voice and in some hundred other papers for more than four decades. As he declares in the expansive, charming memoir “Backing Into Forward,” he was, from the start, “heart and soul, a newspaper strip man.”

A fearful nebbish born half a year before the stock market collapse of 1929 — “one of the few boys in the history of the Bronx who lived through an entire childhood without a bone fracture” — Feiffer floundered in school but repeatedly charmed mentors into supporting him generously. Will Eisner permitted a teen Feiffer to pen scripts for “The Spirit” and then offered him a one-page strip of his own. During the Korean War, an enlightened supervisor of the Signal Corps Publications Agency encouraged the budding cartoonist to write and draw “Munro,” his first longer comic-strip narrative, on the government’s time.

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– Josh Lambert

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