20 July 2009

Jules Feiffer’s Secret Origin

My favorite detail of GraphicNYC's interview with author, playwright, and cartoonist Jules Feiffer is the revelation of who was responsible for his pioneering history of superhero comics: future National Book Award-winning novelist E. L. Doctorow.

“Doctorow was the senior editor at Dial Press, and we were friends,” Jules remembers. “He called me up one day and said ‘I want to do a book called The Great Comic Book Heroes, and I can’t think of anyone else but you to write it. Are you interested?’

“I said ‘Where do I sign?’

“We worked it out, and I told him from the beginning that I didn’t want to make it a work of scholarship, because I didn’t do homework. I didn’t do it in school, so why should I do it as a grown-up? I wanted it to be my reminiscences of comic books, and since I was there from the beginning in 1938, I was nine when Superman came out.”
The interview also spends significant time on Feiffer's "semiautobiographical novel" for young readers, The Man in the Ceiling. Feiffer is now working on an unabashed memoir of growing up, so he really warmed up to that theme:
“School [was] impossibly difficult on every level, and expectations from grown-ups were beyond what I could meet, but something I could fake and faked all the time,” Jules says. “I faked my way through school and the approval of family. Childhood was the act of being a CIA agent in enemy territory, waiting to get back home. Getting back home was where I could run my own life, and my own life was represented by what I read in newspaper strips and particularly comic books, which were home turf to me. . . .

“I was just doing time. The sense was that I was the prisoner of these grown-ups and other peoples’ opinions and priorities. Through some miracle, I had a mother who allowed me to act out my ambition and dreams and that was my out. That was the straw [with] which I breathed through underwater.”
The man has a way with metaphors, doesn't he?

1 comment:

Glenn Ingersoll said...

Hm. Prison was always how I thought of school. Looking ahead from elementary school, I wasn't at all sure I would complete the whole sentence without being forced to make a break for it.