Jules Feiffer, the cartooning legend who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1986 for his work at the Voice (and many other kudos over the years!), will receive another prestigious accolade in April: the 2012 John Fischetti Lifetime Achievement Award, given by Columbia College Chicago.
Feiffer is also an Obie-winning playwright, celebrated screenwriter, and the first cartoonist commissioned by the New York Times‘ for its op-ed page. He has taught at colleges across the U.S., and now calls Southampton home.
Runnin’ Scared took a sec to catch up with Feiffer and chat about his win, changes in the cartoon world, and his current projects: Hint — a graphic novel is in the works!
Runnin’ Scared: Congrats! So how did you learn about the win?
Jules Feiffer: I found out about it through my Chicago art dealer, Jean Albano, who has been exhibiting my drawings cartoons and watercolors of dancers for many years. She called saying that she had been contacted by Columbia College, which it presents in honor of John Fischetti, who was a rather beloved longtime editorial cartoonist. He was in syndication, and he was an old friend. So I’m going out to Chicago to receive the award, and the next day have an exhibition of my work.
Runnin’ Scared: So what are your current projects?
Feiffer:I do watercolors of dancers but mostly, I’m working on children’s books. But I’m also working on a graphic novel for adults.
Runnin’ Scared: Ooh! What’s the novel about?
Feiffer: It’s a noir thriller that takes place in the 1930s, 1940s and I originally wrote it hoping that I could get someone else to illustrate it because the illustrations were going to take forever. Also, it’s a very realistic style comic, which is not my own. But the way it’s ending up is that I am illustrating it, and I’m learning how to draw in a realistic style that’s not my own. But by the end of the book, I hope it will become my own.
Runnin’ Scared: Was the change difficult?
Feiffer: With learning how to draw an entirely different style from the one you and other people have known from my Voice cartoons, every panel is challenging.
Runnin’ Scared: How do you manage?
Feiffer: I start off every page saying: ‘I don’t know how to do this,’ and then in the course of drawing the page, I learn how.
Runnin’ Scared: How is this different from your past approaches to drawing?
Feiffer: With all my work beginning with my illustrations for children’s books, the style was dictated by the text. And recently, I was doing books by my daughter, Kate. And in each case, the style differs someone based one what the story is about.
Runnin’ Scared: Tell us a bit more about the graphic novel…
Feiffer: It’s dark. The book will be anywhere from four to eight panels on each page, with dialogue, of course, and it will run about 200 pages. The book will be at least another year and a half to two years before it’s finished. It’s an immense amount of work.
Runnin’ Scared: You must be excited?
Feiffer: If I live to see it [laughs].
Runnin’ Scared: Please. What else are you working on?
Feiffer: My latest children’s book with my daughter, No Go Sleep, has been published! This is based on a couple of typewritten pages I found in my files about a year and a half ago that I didn’t recognize at all. I saw something that had to have been written by Kate before she was officially a children’s book author, when she was just playing around with the form. When I found it, I thought: This is terrific! This should be a book…Its great fun to do these books….
Runnin’ Scared: Tony Auth, who has also won a Pulitzer for his cartooning, has left the Philadelphia Inquirer for digital journalism at Newsworks.org. What’s your take on this?
Feiffer: Tony Auth is a very old friend of mine. We didn’t really have a chance to go into this in detail. I called him. I understand he’s going online and doing some kind of work online. I’m not sure what it’s going to be, but he’s having an exhibition next month or two in Philadelphia. He’s a brilliant cartoonist.
Runnin’ Scared: Do you ever miss editorial cartooning?
Feiffer: I’m happy to be off the weekly round robin of cartoons and not have deadlines so imminent, and also I’m really not that interested in commenting on politics anymore. I’m burned out on that subject.
Runnin’ Scared: Could anything bring you back to political commentary?
Feiffer: At sometime or other, depending on how the campaign goes…I mean, there’s certainly plenty of material there, but around today, as there was not as I was doing my work, there’s a lot of terrific commentators from Jon Stewart to cartoonists like Pat Oliphant and Tom Toles in Washington. There are some brilliant people around, and my presence is hardly necessary, and I have nothing to say that probably these people couldn’t say just as well or better.
Follow Victoria Bekiempis @vicbekiempis.