Jules Feiffer was born January 26, 1929,
and he celebrates his 90th birthday by offering us The Origins of The Feiffer Dancer.
But back to the beginning of Jules.
Before he escaped his teenage years he had become, first the office gofer for the acclaimed Will Eisner, and then Eisner’s assistant on The Spirit. By the end of the 1940s he was plotting and scripting and laying out Spirit stories.
above: 1952 Spirit script and rough by Feifer, finished art by Wally Wood – via Potrzebie
“The Spirit Section” was where Jules got his first printed credit.
Not on the Spirit stories, but on his own creation.
GROTH: How did you get to do the Clifford strip for Eisner?
FEIFFER: It was in lieu of giving me a raise. [Both laugh] I was making something like $25 a week. I went in and demanded $30. I was writing The Spirit and laying it out. I thought that was worth $30 a week. He informed me that it really wasn’t. So I threatened to quit. And to keep me on, he said he’d give me the back page of The Spirit section, which then had a nice strip, but rather predictable and tired by then, called Jonesy by a wonderful old cartoonist named Bernard Dribble. Stibble or Dribble. But I was a cut-throat competitor, so the hell with him, and I got the Clifford page.
On July 10, 1949 Jules Feiffer achieved his dream of becoming a credited, syndicated comic strip creator. The strip, like Jules’ Spirit work, would run until the Fall of 1952 (though Feiffer would pass “Clifford” on to Gene Bilbrew after 1950). His comics career was put on the back burner while he was drafted into the U.S. Army, after which he “was working for schlock art houses of one kind or another, making a living, and experimenting.”
By 1956, Feiffer was peddling his ideas for a regular comic strip all over Manhattan, and while publishers reacted favorably to his offbeat characters, they were unsure how readers would react to Feiffer’s motley collection of beatniks, uptight businessmen, insecure introverts, and other urban denizens. Feiffer said he was told again and again, “We don’t know how to publish this. If your name was [Saul] Steinberg or [James] Thurber we’d publish it.” “They were telling me that I had to get famous before I could get published,” he said. “But on all their desks was this newspaper, the Village Voice, which I had only seen a couple times — it had been around for not even a year by that time. So I picked up the Voice and started looking at it, with the idea that if I could get in this paper they’ll think I’m famous — because they all read it.”
Feiffer’s inaugural Sick, Sick, Sick strip appeared in the Voice’s first anniversary issue, on October 24, 1956. While the heavy, UPA-influenced ink contours would gradually become more fluid (Feiffer’s signature dancers would soon be leaping from panel to panel), the humor — voiced by characters who mixed confessional angst with self-defeating self-absorption — was already established.
And Jules rise to fame began. Within a couple of years his strip was being collected in book form, while other comic creations were also being published in books and magazines. He, apparently, even made some inroads into animation and prose and play and screenwriting, garnering some acclaim and accompanying awards in those areas.
In 1986 Feiffer’s, now eponymously titled Village Voice comic strip, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning. 10 years later The Village Voice, in a cost cutting move, dumped Jules as a staff member (and then tried to continue running the strip through syndication – Jules nixed that action). The strip continued running in syndication until 2000.
Last year he also began a twice monthly page for the online Tablet magazine,
which is where we came in.
Happy Birthday Jules Feiffer…
*Senior Strippers is my “list of cartoonists who continue to carry on past 90 years.”