Jules Feiffer - a loving homage to the pulp-inspired films and comic strips of his youth. Channeling Eisner's The Spirit, along with the likes of Hammett, Chandler, Cain, John Huston, and Billy Wilder, and spiced with the deft humor


Jules Feiffer, Kill My Mother, Liveright, 2014.

A fantastic graphic novel from the Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist, inspired by classic adventure strips he read as a child. Great for the aspiring Quentin Tarantino, or for the aspiring next Feiffer

A Vanity Fair Best Book of 2014. A Kirkus Reviews Best Fiction Book of 2014. When three daunting dolls intersect with one hapless heroine and a hard-boiled private eye, deception, betrayal, and murder stalk every mean street in… Kill My Mother.
Adding to a legendary career that includes a Pulitzer Prize, an Academy Award, Obie Awards, and Lifetime Achievement Awards from the National Cartoonist Society and the Writers Guild of America, Jules Feiffer now presents his first noir graphic novel. Kill My Mother is a loving homage to the pulp-inspired films and comic strips of his youth. Channeling Eisner's The Spirit, along with the likes of Hammett, Chandler, Cain, John Huston, and Billy Wilder, and spiced with the deft humor for which Feiffer is renowned, Kill My Mother centers on five formidable women from two unrelated families, linked fatefully and fatally by a has-been, hard-drinking private detective.
As our story begins, we meet Annie Hannigan, an out-of-control teenager, jitterbugging in the 1930s. Annie dreams of offing her mother, Elsie, whom she blames for abandoning her for a job soon after her husband, a cop, is shot and killed. Now, employed by her husband’s best friend—an over-the-hill and perpetually soused private eye—Elsie finds herself covering up his missteps as she is drawn into a case of a mysterious client, who leads her into a decade-long drama of deception and dual identities sprawling from the Depression era to World War II Hollywood and the jungles of the South Pacific.
Along with three femme fatales, an obsessed daughter, and a loner heroine, Kill My Mother features a fighter turned tap dancer, a small-time thug who dreams of being a hit man, a name-dropping cab driver, a communist liquor store owner, and a hunky movie star with a mind-boggling secret. Culminating in a U.S.O. tour on a war-torn Pacific island, this disparate band of old enemies congregate to settle scores.
In a drawing style derived from Steve Canyon and The Spirit, Feiffer combines his long-honed skills as cartoonist, playwright, and screenwriter to draw us into this seductively menacing world where streets are black with soot and rain, and base motives and betrayal are served on the rocks in bars unsafe to enter. Bluesy, fast-moving, and funny, Kill My Mother is a trip to Hammett-Chandler-Cain Land: a noir-graphic novel like the movies they don’t make anymore.

When they first appeared in the Village Voice, in 1956, Jules Feiffer’s cartoons didn’t look or read like anyone else’s, but the expressive looseness of his figures, the characters’ elaborate verbal humor, and Feiffer’s sardonic wit have shaped comics ever since. Feiffer has written movies, plays, musicals, novels, children’s books, and a memoir, in addition to illustrating numerous books, but his first great love has always been the comics he devoured as a child. He wrote about this passion in his acclaimed 1965 book of comics criticism, The Great Comic Book Heroes; his newest book, Kill My Mother, is a noir graphic novel that celebrates what inspired the cartoonist. —Alex Dueben

“Jules Feiffer’s Kill My Mother is a tribute to film noir and detective fiction….But Kill My Mother isn’t mere pastiche. The story is a thoughtful meditation on female identity and whether the not-so-simple art of murder can ever be defended as a moral necessity. It is a story about stories, the myths we have to create in order to keep putting one foot in front of the other… I know what I think: Kill My Mother is terrific.” - Laura Lippman

“The book is full of the stock characters of the classic noir detective genre―there’s the drunken loser of a private eye, a long-suffering but resourceful widow and her plucky teenage daughter (who also happens to hate her), prize fighters, tough guys chewing on cigars and, of course, a beautiful and mysterious woman. But the characterizations, relationships and, notably, the dialogue he’s created―a Feiffer specialty―are anything but stock in what is shaping up (PW got a sneak peak of the first 60 pages) as a lively and personal recreation of the noir genre in comics form.” - Calvin Reid

“The most astonishing plot twist in this hard-boiled musical melodrama chock-full of shifting identities and relationships involves seeing Jules Feiffer―the old master who reinvented the newspaper comic strip in the middle of the twentieth century―now reinvents himself as an ambitious young graphic novelist!” - Art Spiegelman

Kill My Mother stretches the long-form graphic novel into formidable textures of compact expression, daring to try things that film noir could only dream of.” - Chris Ware

“Nobody moves like a Feiffer character, and no graphic novel has ever moved like Kill My Mother. Feiffer uses the page like the multimedia genius he is: the camera storytelling of a filmmaker, the body language of stage actors, and the power of punch lines that define his people. Seven decades of pent-up love of noir pours out in these panels.” - Paul Levitz

“Multitalented Jules Feiffer has done it all. Winner of a Pulitzer Prize, an Academy Award, an Obie Award, among many others, he’s now turned his spectacular talent to a graphic novel. Nobody writes like Jules! Nobody draws like Jules! Nobody in their right mind would miss reading this monumental milestone of his incredible career!” - Stan Lee

“The story is wickedly imagined and deftly plotted, drawing on numerous classic noir influences while including charmingly unique flourishes… Feiffer’s illustrations have a rough-hewn quality, with the jumbled lines of his figures and faces clumping evocatively like Giacometti sculptures, while his human forms move with the fluidity of Degas’ horses across open panels of dancing and boxing. The entire work feels pulled from an earlier time yet explosively modern, a madcap relic animated by an outrageous mind. An unusual, unforgettable, incomparable pulpy punch.” - Kirkus Reviews

“Feiffer’s expressive inking seems made for full-length graphic novels, with inventive page layouts and action that practically leaps from panel to panel as the story jumps from the Great Depression to WWII… The 85-year-old legend fixes his material with a fresh and youthful eye, transforming familiar tropes into a crazy kaleidoscope of toxic family history that makes The Big Sleep look like forty winks. You’ll need to read it twice to follow the story―and you’ll want to do it, too.” - Keir Graff

“A fantastic read… Very funny and genuinely moving. Feiffer’s layouts owe much to his mentor, Will Eisner, but his spidery art and absurdist prose are all his own.” - School Library Journal

When we found out that the Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Jules Feiffer was going to be publishing his first noir graphic novel next summer, we asked him to let us see a few pages.
“The book is called ‘Kill My Mother,’ which, I assure you, has nothing to do with autobiography,” Feiffer says. “It goes back to my early years, when I was an addict of hard-boiled crime fiction and newspaper adventure strips. If you were a child of the Great Depression, as I was, your preference was to fantasize elaborate escapes, because they were much more attractive than real life; my forms of escape allowed me to survive my real life.
“As I aged into my eighties, I found that my interests in the long form, which over the preceding forty years had been largely taken up with theatre and film, shifted back to what I loved most as a kid: the classic adventure strips exemplified by Will Eisner’s ‘The Spirit’ and Milton Caniff’s ‘Terry and the Pirates.’ Both strips offered role models and crucial learning experiences.
“I worked for Eisner from when I was about fifteen or sixteen, around 1946, on and off until 1951. Toward the end, I was ghostwriting ‘The Spirit.’ Eisner found me useless as an artist, but he liked the way I wrote. He was by far the most original and inspirational comics creator of his time. And, for me, it was painfully frustrating that, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t learn to draw in noir style. It only took me sixty additional years to figure out how.
“Working in the noir form for the first time, I began fooling with a story line, not really knowing where I was going, leaving behind the sketchy line drawings I had become known for and the satiric political and social ideas that made up my subject matter for over forty years. Instead, I began to experiment with the sort of work I loved and read as a teen-ager: not only Eisner and Caniff but the private-eye guys Hammett and Chandler, along with such noir movies as ‘The Maltese Falcon,’ ‘The Big Sleep,’ ‘Double Indemnity,’ and ‘Mildred Pierce.’ I tried to write and draw in celebration of the works that meant so much to me as a young man, areas that I had steadfastly avoided up till now because I didn’t think I was the right artist to draw the story I wanted to tell.
“The following selection will introduce to the reader a style of storytelling and illustration that neither I nor my readers have ever seen me work in before. The short selection is meant as an appetizer. The book itself is a hundred and fifty pages of thrills and chills, taut and tortured characters and, here and there, I admit, pretty funny.” - and

more excerpts here

Jules Feiffer has been selling books since Eisenhower was president. It’s possible that you’ve never heard his name before, though it’s also possible that you remember the eponymous strip Feiffer, which ran for 42 years in The Village Voice and was syndicated across the country.
Some of the press materials hail Kill My Mother as Feiffer’s first graphic novel—which it isn’t, by any definition of that dog-eared phrase. But it is important, nevertheless.
The closest corollary to Kill My Mother from recent years is Robert Crumb’s adaptation of The Book Of Genesis in 2009. Although Feiffer is 14 years Crumb’s senior, they occupy similar positions in the newly constructed comics zeitgeist: elder statesmen speaking from positions of great authority as forerunners of the current critical status quo. On paper The Book Of Genesis had all the ingredients to be a hit. Here was one of our great living cartoonists, settling down to finally create some kind of great statement. The ad copy wrote itself. Almost all of Crumb’s work throughout his long career has come in the form of short stories and sketches, so the idea of him producing his first extended narrative, his first “graphic novel” if we have to use the phrase—and a retelling of one of the primary documents of Western civilization—was simply too good to be true.
And it was. Crumb himself later admitted in the pages of The Comics Journal that the book was a mistake. The finished project, while beautifully illustrated from front to back, was also a stilted slog (much like the experience of reading The Book Of Genesis itself). Despite all the talk about Crumb’s scholarship and agnostic approach to the subject matter, the result was very much in the vein of a traditional depiction of the first book of the Bible, albeit without fig leaves to hide the conspicuous nudity.
Flash forward five years later and the same dynamic is still in place, albeit even more consolidated. The first decade of the 21st century saw comics’ public esteem rise precipitously in a way that might be difficult to explain to anyone who doesn’t remember the world before roughly 2000. That was the annus mirablis for the re-creation of the comics industry after a rough decade of diminishing returns. The initial release of Chris Ware’s collected Jimmy Corrigan and the first X-Men movie, while in reality two completely different events, were both important in terms of the way they broadcast the fact that comics were suddenly worth paying attention to by two mutually exclusive audiences: the literary cognoscenti who opened the doors for Ware, and the Hollywood financiers who opened their wallets for Marvel. As much as we may rail against the misguided cultural shorthand that links “comics” with “superheroes” as an intrinsic property—at least in the English-speaking world—the emergence of those simultaneous phenomena contributed to the increasingly higher profile that the medium enjoyed from that point onward.
So now we live in a world where éminences grises receive fat advances for their latest books, where cartoonists win MacArthur “genius” fellowships as a matter of course, and graphic memoirs are shortlisted for the National Book Award without any real comment. It’s a different world than it was in 1992 when Art Spiegelman won a special Pulitzer for Maus, which has always struck me as being akin to a category for “Best Dancing Bear”—to the awards committee, it probably didn’t matter how well the bear could dance, they were simply applauding the fact that it had learned the steps. Am I saying this in order to minimize Feiffer’s work? Is he another archetypal “lion in winter” who deserves thunderous applause merely for stepping on stage, accepting 70 years’ worth of praise for his last round of (inferior) output?
The temptation exists to put a book like Kill Your Mother on a pedestal simply for existing: Feiffer is 85 years old, after all. Shouldn’t we give him the benefit of the doubt? No, we shouldn’t, anymore than Tempest should be anyone’s favorite Bob Dylan album out of respect. The worst thing Liveright could have done for Kill Your Mother was to spackle the dust jacket with high praise from the likes of Spiegelman, Ware, Neil Gaiman, Paul Levitz, David Small, and Stan Lee—and of course, that’s exactly what they did. Anyone with even a layman’s understanding of comics scans that list and immediately sees the respect Feiffer’s name commands.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that Fieffer has few peers left who retain first-hand memories of life during the waning days of the Golden Age of comics, when Feiffer worked for Will Eisner on The Spirit. It’s also not an exaggeration to say that Feiffer is one of a handful of key figures in American comics to pave the way for later practitioners such as the aforementioned Spiegelman, Gaiman, and Ware—the whole “comics ain’t just for kids” crowd. He was one of the medium’s first historians (his The Great Comic Book Heroes appears to be once again out of print, but remains indispensable).
The worst and inevitable way to frame any review of Kill Your Mother would be to place it in context with Feiffer’s life’s work. Kill Your Mother doesn’t deserve to carry the weight of its creator’s long and storied career on its back. It certainly doesn’t need the dubious honor of being held up as the late-career work that catalyzes a renewed appreciation for a distinguished veteran. It deserves to stand or fall on its own merits.
Thankfully, Kill Your Mother is good. Really good. It has a few tricks up its sleeve, but it’s not overly concerned with reinventing the wheel. It seems on first blush as if it’s going to be a pallid, sepia-toned period piece, but it dodges that bullet (so to speak) by maintaining a jaunty, skeptical tone throughout. It bills itself as a modern noir, down to the brutal title and gray scale ink-wash art, but it’s not, not really.
The book isn’t strictly a pastiche, but it nevertheless has a lot of fun shifting in and out of recognizable—some might say well-worn—genre tropes. The first half, true to billing, is indeed noir, or at least mostly. Even though the book starts with a low-class private eye and his (seemingly) hapless girl Friday, it also splices in a subplot about teenagers left to their own devices to stumble around Depression-era “Bay City,” committing petty crime and meeting strange hobos. This series of seemingly unconnected events culminate in a murder, and the book jumps forward 10 years from 1933 to 1943.
When the story resumes, the cosmetic elements of noir have been mostly swept aside in favor of a mixture of Hollywood satire and family melodrama. Describing the narrative in terms of genre signifiers makes sense because the book itself shifts gears every time it noticeably shifts genres. The stakes change for each character involved in the central mystery according to which part of the story they think they’re inhabiting at any given moment, be it murder mystery, romance, show-business tragedy, or even an old-fashioned “issues” melodrama.
One of the most satisfying moments in the book occurs when a heavy from the first half, a thuggish caricature of a noir thug with a granite face and butcher-block hands, steps into the literal sunlight of Los Angeles, diving into a swimming pool with his clothes on and emerging naked, as if to say, “I’m stepping out of that old genre and into the new.” Sure enough, the book ends in World War II, with every outstanding mystery having been drawn together in a neat bow by the deus ex machina of a Japanese raid on a USO performance attended by all the major players.
To say anything more might risk giving away too many of the plot’s hard-earned twists and turns. But for all its fun with genre, the book gains its power from its strong and memorable characters. This is a book about women, most importantly; the men are window dressing, one-dimensional menaces, brutes or wannabes who exist for the purpose of fulfilling or failing the willful women who guide their trajectories.
If this were a new graphic novel by a rookie talent, this would be the part of the review where I said that this was a frighteningly well-constructed story by a preternaturally confident artist. But that’s not what this is, and the great tragedy is that Feiffer’s own reputation might obscure the degree to which Kill Your Mother really is a triumph. If it were by anyone but an acknowledged master of the form, it might be a much bigger deal than it is.
There’s been a bit of discussion in recent months regarding the pejorative term “pap-pap comics,” a phrase that sprang into being in the comments section for The Comics Journal’s website to describe old comics being discussed by old timers with an obvious historical bias. This emerged in the context of a long-running discussion on the nature of criticism in comics discourse, a discussion that naturally led toward a description of all the demographics currently being excluded by the dominant discourse, a group that includes women, minorities, the LGBT community, and just generally anyone under the age of, oh, 40 or 50, who doesn’t believe that Terry And The Pirates should remain a timeless benchmark for everything that follows.
I worry that a book like Kill Your Mother might be easily overlooked in a critical climate eager not to be taken in by the kind of late-career hype that scuttled The Book Of Genesis. This isn’t just an example of some old graybeard showing up with their latest dose of pap-pap for an appreciative audience of similar graybeards. This is someone who by all rights should be living a peaceful retirement crashing the party and straight-up embarrassing cartoonists one-quarter his age. Kill Your Mother is a wonder of a book that, rather than using its author’s reputation as cover for its deficiencies, dares the reader to imagine another book this year, by any other cartoonist, feeling quite so vibrant and daring. - Tim O'Neil