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 Jules Ralph Feiffer  (1929 - )

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Lived/Active: New York      Known for: editorial, other cartoons-crowds

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Ad Code: 4
Jules Ralph Feiffer
from Auction House Records.
Woman assesses who to blame
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Jules Feiffer was considered the dean of American "intellectual" cartoonists. Jules Ralph Feiffer first introduced his searching graphic vignettes in the "Village Voice" in 1956, and has since grown in stature to become one of the leading social, psychological, and political commentators in the country. He used a narrative sequence of pictures in which, through revealing monologues, the artsy classes of Greenwich Village exposed themselves as essentially hypocritical or somewhat self-delusional. Editorial cartoonists soon began using multi-panel cartoons occasionally too, and began imparting psychological insight to their views of public issues.

Feiffer was born in the Bronx of New York and attended the Art Students League in 1946 and the Pratt Institute from 1947 to 1951. He assisted comic-book cartoonist Will Eisner, ghosting The Spirit from 1946 to 1951, and from 1949 to 1951 drew his own cartoon strip, Clifford, as part of the Spirit feature. He held other art-related jobs as making film slides, designing booklets for an art firm, and wrote cartoons for Terrytoons. From 1951 to 1953, he served in a cartoon animation unit of the Army Signal Corps.

Feiffers trademark cartoons monologues or dialogues revealing the speakers psychological or sexual angst in comic-strip form using from six to eight panels began to appear in the avant-garde New York weekly, The Village Voice, as Sick, Sick, Sick in 1956. The relentless bleak and painfully acute insight of these features, too negative for many, was exactly on-target for the Voice readership, and quickly generated a cult. The two-row strip changed its name to Feiffer in testimony to the extraordinary personal voice of its creator, and the London Observer picked it up in 1958, syndicated by Robert Hall in 1960. Now distributed by Publishers-Hall to over 100 papers, it has produced published collections every two years since Sick, Sick, Sick (McGraw-Hill, 1958). Never paid by the Voice, Feiffer earned his first regular money for the strip from Hugh Hefner, who began running it in Playboy after the publication of the first collection in 1958.

Feiffers first recurring character was Bernard Mergandeiler, "a Robert Benchley character launched into the age of Freud." A defeated and hopeless figure, he is described elsewhere by Feiffer as "a young urban liberal given to anxiety attacks, stomachaches, and obsessive confessionals. He either had bad sex, or no sex; either way he felt guilty." Later, Feiffer created Dancer, "Bernards female counterpart, abused and exploited by men, no less than he was by women" but eternally hopeful. She dances to the seasons, to the president, to art, to the new year; in 1982, she danced to Reaganomics: "No frills. No excuses. No giveaways. No favors. No money. No job. No government. No thanks."

From the year of his syndication, 1960, Feiffer began addressing himself increasingly to the national scene, pillorying each president as he came along. Kennedy was the "The Sundance Kid", Ford was presented with a tin can on his head like Oppers simpleton Happy Hooligan, Carter was "Movie America." In 1986, the strip brought him the Pulitzer Price for editorial cartooning, an honor his friends Garry Trudeau and three-time Pulitzer winner, Paul Conrad, thought long overdue.

Feiffer has become as well known for his work in other media as for his cartoons. He has written a novel, short stories, plays, television scripts, and screenplays such as Carnal Knowledge (1971). He has contributed essays to magazines such as Ramparts, and edited a collection of comic-book material, The Great Comic Book Heroes (Dial, 1965). His animated cartoon, Munro, based on one of his cartoon stories, won an Oscar as the best short-subject cartoon in 1961. But, it is his sparely drawn, little mini-tales, written with an uncanny ear for the speech, and a penetrating eye into the spirit of his times, that have earned him the status of one of the gurus of his generation.

(Information on the biography above is based on writings from the book, "The Encyclopedia of American Comics," edited by Ron Goulart.)

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