The award-winning cartoonist, playwright, and author delivers a witty, illustrated rendition of his life, from his childhood as a wimpy kid in the Bronx to his legendary career in the arts.
A gifted storyteller who has delighted readers and theater audiences for decades, Jules Feiffer now turns his talents to the tale of his own life.
Plagued by learning problems, a controlling mother, and a debilitating sense of fear, Feiffer embarked on his first cartoon apprenticeship at the age of seventeen, emboldened only by a passion for success and an aptitude for failure. He vividly recalls those transformative years working under the legendary Will Eisner, and later, after he was drafted into the army, his evolution from “smart-ass kid into an enraged satirist.” Backing into Forward also traces Feiffer's love life, from a doomed hitchhiking trip to reclaim his high-school sweetheart to losing his virginity in Greenwich Village, and his road to marriage and fatherhood.
At the center of this journey is Feiffer's prolific creativity. In dazzling detail, he recounts the birth of his subversive graphic novella Munro, his entrée into New York's literary salons, collaborations with film greats Mike Nichols, Robert Altman, and Jack Nicholson, and other major turning points. Brimming with wry punch lines, slices of Americana, and pithy social commentary, Backing into Forward charts Feiffer's rise as an unlikely and incisive provocateur during the conformist fifties and the Vietnam and Civil Rights sixties and seventies.
Before Feiffer received a 1986 Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning, his animated Munro won an Oscar in 1961. His career encompassed everything from comic strips (Village Voice; Playboy), novels (Ackroyd) and plays (Little Murders) to children's books (Bark; George), nonfiction (The Great Comic Book Heroes) and screenplays (Carnal Knowledge; Popeye). Retracing his path of past creative pursuits, he takes anecdotal detours to introduce the talented people he met along the way. As a kid (he was born in 1929), drawing comic strip characters on the sidewalk was a way to avoid Bronx bullies: I was never not afraid. Serving an apprenticeship with cartoonist Will Eisner, he felt he was a fraud ( My line was soft where it should be hard, my figures amoebic when they should be overpowering ), so he instead graduated to ghostwriting Eisner's The Spirit. His account of hitchhiking cross-country invades Kerouac territory, while his ink-stained memories of the comics industry rival Michael Chabon's Pulitzer Prize winning fictional portrait. Two years in the military gave Feiffer fodder for the trenchant Munro (about a child who is drafted). Such satirical social and political commentary became the turning point in his lust for fame, which finally happened, after many rejections, when acclaim for his anxiety-ridden Village Voice strips served as a springboard into other projects. Writing with wit, angst, honesty, and self-insights, Feiffer shares a vast and complex interior emotional landscape. Intimate and entertaining, his autobiography is a revelatory evocation of fear, ambition, dread, failure, rage, and, eventually, success.