10 August 2006

Feiffer on comic books

In 1965 Jules Feiffer, cult cartoonist for the Village Voice and illustrator of The Phantom Tollbooth, published a volume called The Great Comic Book Heroes. The book reprinted several "Golden Age" superhero comics, including material from both big surviving companies, DC and Marvel. It appeared before Stan Lee launched his Origins series, before DC started mining its library with quality reprints, before anyone else had written about superhero comic books between hardcovers in a respectful way. Feiffer mixed artistic and storytelling insight, recollections of reading comic books as a child, and his own experience working for Will Eisner. I have a copy of the book's first paperback edition.

(Fantagraphics has republished Feiffer's text with fewer illustrations "in a compact and affordable size," the publisher says. In marketing, that's called "bugs into features." The book is smaller and more affordable because it doesn't include all those reprinted 1940s comics. The rights to them are no doubt far more expensive now that the first edition helped prove the market. But since I'm not selling my copy, the reissue might be the best way to enjoy Feiffer's insights.)

When Feiffer began to write his own children's books in 1993, he started with the theme of comic books. The Man in the Ceiling is the story of a nascent comic-book artist, with such raw emotions it often feels like autobiography. The timeframe doesn't feel like the 1940s, though, but it doesn't feel like the 1990s, either.

With Meanwhile..., Feiffer returned to the same territory in picture-book form. The hero is once again a young comic-book reader. But this time his biggest problem--he thinks--is that his mom is calling him before he's finished reading his story. He creates a magical text box that says, "Meanwhile..." in order to change his scene, only to find himself in increasingly worse trouble. I thought the hero should have cried, "It's not fair!" one or two fewer times, but otherwise this is a gem.

No comments: