International Ink: Feiffer, France, and Fingerman
You'd expect an autobiography like Jules Feiffer's Backing Into Forward: A Memoir (Doubleday, $30) to be all about its author—and it mostly is, but it's also idiosyncratic. While Feiffer says the book is about how he became a cartoonist, a large portion deals with his family. His relationship with his mother was especially contentious. "I've lied to my mother all my adult life and the better half of my teenage life. The choice was either lying to her or never seeing her again... And even after I learned to fight back, which took too many years, I didn't believe that continually confronting a woman who never in her life admitted she was wrong would make for a satisfactory relationship." Another large portion deals with the anti-Communist hysteria of the late 1940s and '50s, which saw the leftist, Jewish New York world that he grew up in assaulted by wider American paranoia.
Feiffer, a chronically frightened and neurotic person, found his escape in comics—first by volunteering to work with Will Eisner, and then, after failing over and over to sell a comic strip, by giving one away. In 1956, he visited a new free paper. "The tradeoff that the Village Voice required was this: you don't get edited and you don't get paid," he writes. Feiffer, in desperation in 1956, stumbled upon the business model that many Web comics are using now—give you work away for free, and make money on it later. Feiffer's strip Sick, Sick, Sick was a success, and he soon turned from internal concerns to political ones. The first book collection became a best-seller, Playboy began soliciting his cartoons, and to his amazement, Feiffer became friends with members of the New York and London intelligentsia. Feiffer eventually became a novelist, a playwright, a screenwriter (his credits include Robert Altman’s Popeye), and in recent years, a children’s book author. The Voice unceremoniously dumped him in 1997 and he ended the comic strip, but he's stayed busy. His book is full of many short chapters about his different projects, fears, and people he's known—it's easy and rewarding to dip in and read in small doses.
Eric Liberge's On the Odd Hours ($14.95) is the third book in NBM's series of translations of French comics undertaken in cooperation with the Louvre. In this story, a deaf student is sent to the museum to intern. After getting into trouble with a security guard, the student is rescued by a small Asian man, who tells him to come back that night to work. He does, and finds the strange man playing drums and making the artwork come alive. No one in the student's circle believes these events, but he continues to sneak into the museum at night to work with the drummer—even after it costs him his lover and his scholarship. The artwork is lovely and the translation is acceptable, so this quirky work might appeal to a wider audience than it's likely to get in the states.
I expected to like Bob Fingerman's From the Ashes: A Speculative Memoir (IDW, $19.99). Suffice to say, the elements of this wish-fulfilling, satirical fantasy set to a post-nuclear apocalypse don't mesh together very well. After an unexplained nuclear disaster, Fingerman and his wife, Michele, survive untouched in a destroyed New York City. There they have wacky encounters with zombie foodies eating celebrity chef Tony Bourdain, the giant floating head of Bill O'Reilly, assorted mutants, and others. For me, the story never gelled, and I think Fingerman's aware of that. In the collection's afterword, he writes: "The notion of this planet's load being lightened by a few billion-0dd souls is not without its charm... I became a freak for [the news] during the previous administration's reign and believe me eight years of Bush-flavored current events put me in touch with a part of my psyche that had lain dormant for many years: The part that considers The End of the World a credible, even plausible notion." I like a good disaster story myself—I'd suggest George R. Stewart's Earth Abides or Nevil Shute's On the Beach as good starts. But From the Ashes mostly feels like Fingerman's wish-fulfillment fantasy of a world where his wife doesn't work 12-hour days, where they can live normal (and immortal) lives among mutants, and where green locovore living is easy. Personally, I'm hoping for something better from Fingerman next time, but hey, the Onion just gave this book an A.