I just finished Jules Feiffer’s memoir Backing into Forward, a gift from my sister (autographed copy!). It immediately brought back a lot of my memories from the mid-eighties, when I lived in New York and would buy my copy of the Village Voice. Among other things, I’d look for the Feiffer cartoon. Sometimes, it featured a dancer—a modern dancer, which is what I was trying to be.
Reading the book is like listening to an uncle ramble on, telling stories of his life and all the people he knew. Mr. Feiffer drops names in sixes and sevens—some of them I recognized and some of them I didn’t. Comic strip artists and literati—Will Eisner and Philip Roth, for starters. (Starters!) It’s a trip to NYC and a trip back in time.
Mr. Feiffer talks of the Great Depression, the Bronx, and escape through comic books, movies, and radio shows. He talks of having a dream—to be a comic book artist and to be famous. Mr. Feiffer will tell you that he achieved all of his success by backing up so far away from something dreaded that his position ultimately propelled him forward.
He talks about worrying and neuroses (so enduring to me! because I know those both so well), but he also made a couple of bold moves. Read the book to find out. (His reason for joining the Voice was especially brilliant—and it worked.)
Mr. Feiffer tells of living in the McCarthy era and the post-McCarthy era and the general 1950s (which I still see through the lens of “Leave it to Beaver,” and the omnipresent repression of that era. He speaks of speaking out against the Vietnam War. He also speaks often of drinks and parties and dinner with any number of famous people you could name. Yaddo. Martha’s Vineyard. The literati high life.
Oooh, my envy is showing. In some ways, it’s hard.
Wait wasn’t that supposed to be my life? He even finally—after many years of working for free—gets health insurance. But Mr. Feiffer’s recount shows the possible. And he recounts a long, productive, agile life in which artistic creativity pairs with creative solutions for staying afloat and, um, creative.
And the photographs and cartoons are wonderful.
Tags: Jules Feiffer