Jules Feiffer, now eighty one years old, is one of America's finest cartoonists. He has just published an autobiography titled "Backing Into Forward". He came to the Bush Auditorium at Rollins College to talk about "My Life and Funny Times." Former poet laureate Billy Collins introduced Jules to the large audience assembled. Billy said that Jules was a simple man to understand in his mind. He felt that the defining moment in Jules life came when Jules' mother gave away his dog.
Jules spoke about his childhood in the outer borough of New York as a skinny Jewish boy who had only one dream; to be a great cartoonist. His mother designed clothing and she would get just three dollars for each design. Since his father was often out of work, his mom was often the family breadwinner. She put all her hopes in her son.
Jules then showed us a slide show which offered a glimpse at the great cartoonists of the past that he admired. He showed the work of Winsor McCay who created a strip called Little Nemo in Slumberland. He showed us the early Popeye cartoons and felt Popeye was the first superhero who could solve any problem with a good fist fight. In 1937 Superman changed everything. The early Superman comics weren't always the best drawn, but they were very expressive. He felt that Superman was a Jewish boy's wish fulfillment dream of gaining superpowers to finally win Louis Lane's attention. Jules worked for Will Eisner for a while helping draw "The Spirit". The Spirit had a strong feeling of the seediness of the city with high contrast shadows.
Jules tends to like to draw kids. He feels adults over time find ways to disguise how they feel, whereas kids give it all away, their every gesture displays how they are feeling. One of the sketches from his slide show is a funny cartoon he did during the Obama campaign. After JFK was assassinated, Jules became fascinated with theater. He wrote a play called "Little Murders" which was about the breakup of his first marriage. He claims that "Little Murders is the first play to say "sh!t" on the stage. The character of the mother is based on his own mother and he had to talk her out of going to see the production. Jules later went on to write the screenplay for Popeye. This allowed him to bring to life one of his childhood heroes. He wasn't entirely happy with how the director treated his script, but he still loved the experience. Jules said that his feelings of self pity are what made him famous.
He then showed us a series of watercolor sketches that celebrate dance. He explained that he works hard to make the work look and feel spontaneous. He said this series was all about engaging in fantasies about allowing the line to dance on the paper. I was floored by his creative genius and his whole spontaneous an fluid body of work.