Jules Feiffer – Graphic Novelist

An Accidental Noir Trilogy

kill-my-mother-covercousin-joseph

Cartooning seems to be kindred to film noir, and these two books show that. Feiffer was a writer for Will Eisner (the creator of the Spirit, and later in his career, a pioneer and innovator in graphic novels). Maybe it’s the drawn style or the black and white aesthetic, but it’s highly effective.  These books are two thirds of a planned trilogy.

Feiffer uses “noir” stylisation and tropes, however though these stories are set in the nineteen thirties and forties, they are thoroughly modern stories at the same time.

The main characters, in Kill My Mother, are a recently widowed mother, Elsie, and her daughter, Annie, who hates her.  They mix with typical disheveled private eyes, Hollywood stars–and non-stars–and there are several deaths, but you won’t catch all the twists.  However, far more than pastiche and more than stock characters in both books, Feiffer touches on deep feelings about parents and children, about trusting people  you work with, and even the tension between the safe life many people live and the violence and confusion of the wider world.

Cousin Joseph is the story of what leads up to Elsie becoming a widow.

In a New Yorker article about the book, Feiffer says: “I worked for Eisner from when I was about fifteen or sixteen, around 1946, on and off until 1951. Toward the end, I was ghostwriting ‘The Spirit.’ Eisner found me useless as an artist, but he liked the way I wrote. He was by far the most original and inspirational comics creator of his time. And, for me, it was painfully frustrating that, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t learn to draw in noir style. It only took me sixty additional years to figure out how.

 

A New York Times review: “The plot doesn’t break new ground in the genre, but that’s almost impossible to do. The more central question is whether a noir graphic novel has something to offer that traditional novels and film do not. In Feiffer’s hands, yes. A full-page frame — a character on the brink of suicide, naked except for one sock — has a stunning poignancy. Hammond is humanized, if not redeemed, by a self-pitying soliloquy in which he fantasizes about the mystery woman he has been hired to find. And Feif­fer delivers his biggest twist wordlessly, forcing the eye to linger: Am I seeing what I think I’m seeing?”

 

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