Explainers by Jules Feiffer - Introduction by Gary Groth
Written by Gary Groth   
Sunday, 27 January 2008
Explainers: The Complete Village Voice Strips (1956-66) [2nd Ed. - SOLD OUT]
Explainers: The Complete Village Voice Strips (1956-66) [2nd Ed. - SOLD OUT]
Price: $35.00
Explainers by Jules FeifferExplainers by Jules Feiffer

In 1956, Jules Feiffer was a 27-year-old aspiring cartoonist with lofty goals and a hunger to see his work in print. He had previously apprenticed with Will Eisner for six years (1946-1952), eventually writing Eisner's "Spirit" strip — and, even, in 1949, securing a gig writing and drawing a one-page kid strip, "Clifford," that ran in the same comics supplement that featured "The Spirit." Aside from this one pro bono slot (Eisner did not consider it worth paying for), he went unpublished until 1956, discovering in the interim that book publishers were not receptive to the kind of cartooning he wanted to do. He wasn't interested in gag cartoons and at any rate lacked the technical polish to appear in The New Yorker. He was most interested in drawing long comic stories for an adult readership. He started his now legendary comics story "Munro" — about a small child drafted into the U.S. Army due to a bureaucratic error — in 1951 (while still in the Army), but struggled with its story line, finishing it two years later in 1953. But there was no market at the time for a 50-page satirical comic story aimed at adults. None. (He didn't even bother hitting up the then-extant comic book publishers: "What I did had nothing to do with what they did.") The straits that an aspiring cartoonist with grand ambitions found himself in at that time were indeed dire. Feiffer described his life's circumstances after his two-year stint in the Army in 1952 thusly: "I went on unemployment, and was getting money from the Army, and rented an apartment and tried to become a cartoonist. Then I'd run out of money, and get a job for six months with a schlock art studio, until I had enough time to be able to go on unemployment — you had to be fired to be eligible, so I managed to get myself fired. That was never hard."

And so it went.

Feiffer was a devotee of the aesthetic pleasures of cartooning, but he wanted to use the form to confront and comment on the hurly-burly of the life he was watching unfold around him: A Cold War that dominated American foreign policy and became an inviolable political status quo; the oppressive social aftermath of McCarthyism; President Dwight D. Eisenhower's mealy-mouthed hesitance to support the inchoate civil rights movement; postwar affluence leading to an exodus to the suburbs, heightened postwar manufacturing capability, and the ascendancy of the consumer culture leading to The Organization Man and The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit; the militarization of American life (against which Eisenhower so presciently cautioned the American public); and the overwhelming failure of the popular media to honestly reflect the reality of relations between men and women.

Feiffer wanted to use comics to stir things up and to get into the thick of the fray, but there wasn't much of a fray to be in the thick of in the mid-'50s. Media outlets reflected and reinforced the political status quo, and journalism was generally tepid. Dissent was marginalized and appeared in small magazines such as Dissent, Partisan Review or I. F. Stone's Weekly (begun in 1953). "I was part of a generation," said Feiffer. "I identified with that generation and I was curious about what made us all tick. I was also outraged by the politics of the time, the acquiescence to the oppressiveness of the time and the willingness of people to be censored or to self-censor. And if you read the mass media or the mainstream magazines like The New Yorker, you didn't seem to notice anything going against the grain. Certainly you never saw it in cartoons, although there were some brilliant cartoonists, but they weren't touching on these subjects."

Explainers by Jules Feiffer

Serendipitously, the Village Voice published its first issue on October 25, 1955. The Voice was founded by Ed Fancher (the publisher), Dan Wolf (the editor), and Norman Mailer (silent financial backer, who also came up not only with cash but with the name of the paper). According to Wolf, in a 1962 essay, the Voice was created at a time "when the vulgarities of McCarthyism had withered the possibilities of a true dialogue between people." The Voice's mission, perforce, was to reinvigorate the possibilities of journalism, and toward that goal it published gutsy investigative journalism of a leftish bent and, perhaps more importantly, cultivated a passel of individualistic writers who were encouraged to maintain their own distinctive voices and points of view and who wrote about everything from the arts to politics (and which originally included Jonas Mekas, Nat Hentoff, and, of course, Mailer, among many others). The Voice represented a radical departure from the gentleman journalism and consensus thinking that prevailed in most newspapers and magazines, and presaged the New Journalism that would become a force in the '60s. It both reflected and represented an optimism among its contributors — and maybe its constituency — that the times they were a-changin'; in a 1956 Voice column, Mailer wrote that "I feel the hints, the clues, the whispers of a new time coming."

When he saw the Voice, Feiffer felt those same hints, clues, and whispers of a new time coming — and a career opportunity as well. "My approach to the Voice was totally cynical," he said. "I had been turned down over and over again by book publishers. 'Munro' was turned down. The book I called Sick, Sick, Sick was turned down. ...It was a Catch-22 situation. I had no name, so who was going to buy this work that looked like children's drawings, but was very adult material? Now, if my name were Steig, it would be marketable. If my name were Steinberg, then they could sell it. If my name were Thurber, no problem. So I had to figure out a way of becoming Steig, Steinberg or Thurber in order to get what I wanted into print. I thought of all sorts of things. I could kill somebody, and then get famous that way, and then I could get published. I could commit suicide... suicide was not yet established as a form of self-promotion, as it later became with several poets. But short of suicide or murder, I didn't know what to do until the Voice came along."

Feiffer's strategy was simple: The Voice was read by everyone in New York publishing circles. If he could appear in it on a regular basis, such exposure could give him enough cachet to publish books. "My expectations were simply to get into print, to impress book publishers that there was an audience for my work, and to eventually get these longer cartoon narratives published. It was not at all my ambition to do a sixpanel strip."

As Feiffer describes it, he just dropped by the Voice office in September or October, 1956, and introduced himself. There were only four people who worked there at the time: Fancher, Wolf, and two editors, John Wilcock and Jerry Tallmer. He spoke first to Tallmer, who also wrote theatrical reviews. Feiffer brought three or four dummies of books he had put together and shown book publishers — including "Munro" and Sick, Sick, Sick — all of which had been rejected, and showed them to Tallmer, who passed them around to the other three. Wilcock, who had been writing a column called "The Village Square" beginning in the first issue, remembers "the day Jules came into the office and we all clustered around and loved his work." They basically gave Feiffer carte blanche on the spot to do whatever he wanted (presumably within reason, but maybe not) — an unheard-of editorial freedom then, as now, and one of which Feiffer took full advantage by creating a revolutionary comic strip unlike any that had preceded it.

Explainers by Jules Feiffer
October 24, 1956

From the first strip, which appeared on October 24, 1956, Feiffer wasted no time confronting the social and psychological, the private and public issues that defined his generation, described by Auden as the postwar generation living in the Age of Anxiety. His first strip's protagonist symbolizes the frightened office drone caught up in the rat race; two weeks later, Feiffer illustrates the disconnectedness and alienation of modern urban life; the following week he tackles the inherent duplicity of modern marketing strategies. He was, from the beginning, a relentless observer of what was going on around him, and the 10 years of strips in this book are practically an encyclopedia of issues preoccupying the public intellectual from 1956 to 1966. Feiffer cites a number of writers who crossed boundaries from the sociological to the cultural and the literary who "influenced me in terms of my politics and my political courage." The most important of these were I.F. Stone, the independent, contrarian investigative journalist who exposed the hidden machinations of power politics from the Truman administration through Nixon's; and Murray Kempton, first a reporter, then a columnist for the (then) liberal New York Post, known for his iconoclasm and stylistic virtuosity. Feiffer also read and profited from Dwight Macdonald (Against the American Grain), Edgar Friedenberg (Coming of Age in America), Paul Goodman (Growing up Absurd), Eric Fromm (The Sane Society), and Lewis Mumford (The Conduct of Life). (He also admired Norman Mailer, who was writing a column in the Voice when they started publishing his strip. "I thought he was one of the most exciting American writers on the scene. Maybe the most exciting young writer on the scene.") None of them were theorists or academics who wrote obscure treatises or abstruse essays; they were, to a man, thoroughly committed to explicating the most vexing issues of their day and wrestling insights out of them, usually in elegant prose. (The March 9, 1960 strip is practically a catalogue of contemporary intellectual preoccupations.)

The Lonely Ones by William Steig
The Lonely Ones by William Steig

Originally, Feiffer claims that he intended to explore more personal and psychological afflictions because in terms of cartooning "that was something that was in the air at the time," probably referring to such works as William Steig's The Rejected Lovers and The Lonely Ones. His detour into and eventual commitment to political commentary was borne out of a combination of rage and moral imperative: "I by no means thought of myself as wanting to be a political cartoonist," Feiffer said, "although my politics were very well-defined on a personal level and I thought of myself as very much on the left. I never thought of myself as a political cartoonist until some months in when Eisenhower so enraged me with his comment on the Brown vs. Board of Education decision where he basically said, 'It's a lousy ruling, but it's the law of the land, so I guess we have to back it up.' And once I started in politics I couldn't stop. Much of what I was going after was what government did with language, — the double-speak that Orwell wrote about so brilliantly in 1984. That was very much a part of Eisenhower's administration. It's a part of most administrations, but I particularly became aware of it as I came of age in Eisenhower's time: McCarthyism and post-McCarthyism, the 'witch hunts,' the Atomic Energy Program and nuclear testing. How government said one thing which meant something else."

Feiffer's other major subject was male-female relations (known these days as the gender wars) though the author does not necessarily draw a firm line between politics and personal relationships; indeed, private neurosis tends to blend seamlessly into the political realm in Feiffer's world (note the March 13, 1957 strip where the man's political conscience is neutered by psychoanalysis). Perhaps this made it easier for Feiffer — and the reader — to move from one to the other without missing a beat.

This is where Feiffer's two modern masculine archetypes first appeared — Bernard (timid, insecure, sensitive, neurotically reflective, i.e., couldn't score) on November 13, 1957, and Huey (testosterone-driven, confident, oblivious, i.e., scored all the time) on March 12, 1958. They represented the twin poles of male immaturity, and achieved their dramatic apotheosis in Carnal Knowledge as Jonathan and Sandy (written first as a play, then a 1971 film, directed by Mike Nichols). "It was important to me," says Feiffer of Bernard, "that I was different from other cartoonists and other strips in that I was not going to have any established characters, and I think Jerry Tallmer loved the ineffectual guys I was doing and he may have suggested that I make him a permanent character; he didn't say, Give him a name, but he didn't have to [because] that's what he was saying. I thought, well, why not? I'll have one guy who the readers can identify with, because it's false to make it a different guy each week when it's the same character." And Huey? "I was at a party in the Village and I was more or less the Bernard character looking at all these gorgeous Radcliffe girls and all these gorgeous Hunter girls and all these gorgeous Swarthmore girls, all of them feminists, all of them intellectuals — it was before feminism but they were feminists anyhow — and all of them draping themselves over these imitation Brando types who were big, muscular, illiterate thugs — big and sexy and disheveled and wearing T-shirts and jeans, the worst dressed guys at the party who couldn't say much more than 'duh.' And these women were all over them. Huey came from that."

Explainers by Jules Feiffer
March 12, 1958

Although Feiffer may have identified more with Bernard, he was an equal opportunity satirist and as hard on Bernard as he was on Huey — in one strip (August 31, 1961), in a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde act, Bernard practically turns into Huey. He was also equally hard on the women — those who browbeat Bernard or gave him the bum's rush and those who were mesmerized by Huey's sexual magnetism and oafishness. Feiffer admits that "women at the time would chew me out; they'd say, 'I love your work but you're very hard on women and you're very critical of women,' and I would say back at them, 'Show me where I'm nicer to men than I am to the women.' [Such criticism from women] irritated me because it seemed to me that it misunderstood what I was doing. I saw my work as very pro-women." If anything, his depiction of women — and of men, politicians, just about everything — got more acid over the years. His most devastating strip about women's taste in men appears on March 12, 1966; without even the help of Huey or Bernard, women are depicted as specifically choosing brutish characteristics for their ideal man — with a kicker in the last panel that savages the Hueys of the world and even takes a parting shot at the exploitation of labor, a small masterpiece of formal concision and comic timing.

Explainers by Jules Feiffer
March 26, 1958

Feiffer is right, though: He's at least as hard on men as he is on women, and probably harder: Men's treatment of and attitudes toward women are skewered throughout (see November 19, 1961), and there are several strips that I'd call proto-Carnal Knowledge (March 26, 1958 is the earliest) in which the themes Feiffer expanded upon in that screenplay are first rehearsed. His commentary in the strips about married couples is particularly toxic (as it was in Carnal Knowledge), not toward the institution so much as the stubborn and tragic inability of couples in marriages to connect: "The alienation between men and women who needed each other and, on some level, were passionate about each other, yet what set in was a restlessness and dissatisfaction that lead to the kind of cartoons I did. I think what I was talking about was what marriages would fall into when couples. Both partners discovering that they had unrequited needs and no one doing anything about it. It's the unrequited needs that build up the resentment, the hostility and the eventual rage that leads to this distance or sometimes violence or finally ending the relationship."

The reader should be reminded that Feiffer's view of marriage and relationships, as displayed in these strips, is relentlessly bleak because he was working in a satirical mode and not writing sociological treatises; he does not pretend to present a rounded portrait of marriage. "Why," he asks rhetorically, "would I do a strip about a marriage that worked? Where's the humor?" Equally obviously, he saw splintered marriages and fractured relationships as worthy of social comment because of their ubiquity.

Feiffer's satiric sensibilities were in place from the get-go, and while his technique evolved over time, his command of both the medium itself (both visually and verbally) and his satirical focus become sharper and more assured at an astonishing velocity. (For example, his first strip about gender relations appears on January 2, 1957, about a sad sack verbally abused by a shrill, unattractive woman; his second strip on the same subject a month later has considerably more finesse and bite, and makes a more devastating and cogent comment on male egoism.) He had between six and 12 panels to explicate a political point, delineate characters, and dramatize a dialogue (or a monologue). At the beginning, he "was floundering for a drawing style and if you look at the work it was basically a borrowed UPA style." Feiffer had worked for United Productions of America, an animation studio that introduced a distinctive, slightly jazzy visual slant to animation and produced such features as Tom Terrific, Mr. Magoo, and Gerald McBoing Boing, the last of which is the most relevant influence on Feiffer's initial style. But Feiffer was a comics aficionado too and the pen and ink technique of the earliest strips in this book looks as if it was also influenced by the William Steig of The Lonely Ones and the French cartoonist André François. The inking was initially scratchy and the drawing angular, but in just three months, with the January 23, 1957 strip, the graphic style changed abruptly: the inking is looser and more fluid, the forms become more rounded, the line takes on a spontaneous quality. Feiffer attributes this to finally finding an inking tool that gave him the kind of line he wanted: wooden dowel sticks. Wooden dowel sticks? Yes, the strip's look might have evolved differently if Feiffer had been a vegetarian: "I guess what happened was I bought a steak and it was in the steak and I said, 'This is interesting. It's got a point. Sharpened like a pencil. Let's put it in some ink and see what happens.' And I loved what happened, so that became my medium. It gave a line for the first time that I liked, strong, dry and brush-like. I didn't like using a brush. It gave my work too conventional a look, and I lacked control. The line I got from the wooden sticks was more artful and eccentric. It gave weight to my drawing, which it ordinarily lacked. That's how I drew for a long, long time. I used sticks for years, but it became increasingly tedious. I finally got fed up with the eccentricity, which drew me to them in the first place. I reverted back to pen and ink." (Feiffer's unsure if he stopped using his wooden dowels before the last strip in this volume [December 26, 1966], but if I had to guess, I'd choose the October 20, 1966 strip as the one where he switched over to a pen.)

Bavarians by Andre François
Bavarians by Andre François

Feiffer was always more confident in the writing than the drawing. "I was very critical of my art in those early years. The writing I thought I had control of and I was pleased with, but I was never satisfied with the drawing." Although the drawing has since become iconic, an easily recognizable trademark of Feiffer's oeuvre — the drawing is essential, of course, but one can imagine a different stylistic approach— it's the writing that distinguishes the strip and makes it a unique landmark in the history of cartooning. No other comic strip had tackled such a wide array of adult concerns straightforwardly and confrontationally as Feiffer did week in and week out. It's generally more text heavy than any strip that preceded it, though the amount of text never seems to throw the strip off balance — due, in no small part, to the unique — and uniquely appropriate — equilibrium Feiffer achieved between the highly charged text and the subtle, gestural drawing. About this, Feiffer said, "I thought [the visuals] were stylistically subordinate; words and pictures are what a comic strip is all about, so you can't say what's more important or less. They work together. I wanted the focus on the language, and on where I was taking the reader in six or eight panels through this deceptive, inverse logic that I was using. The drawing had to be minimalist. If I used angle shots and complicated artwork, it would deflect the reader. I didn't want the drawings to be noticed at all. I worked hard making sure that they wouldn't be noticed."

Feiffer nailed the visual approach to the strip in three months or so, but the writing kept getting more sophisticated over the first several years as Feiffer honed the timing and rhythms of the panel to panel continuity. And as he became more assured, the dialogue and speeches and monologues became longer and more complex, the tempo picked up, the language became richer and more potent, and a wider array of voices proliferated — urban professionals, of course, but middle-aged mothers and housewives, bigots and reactionaries and good ol' boys, kids, military personnel, not to mention dead-on parodies of Ike, Nixon, JFK, LBJ, Jack Paar, and other public figures — all of which in turn gave the strip a genuinely, singularly theatrical flavor.

What is particularly striking is how well the strips in this volume hold up given the journalistic context in which they were written. Most of them are, in fact, eerily relevant today and testify not only to Feiffer's acuity and prescience, but to a satirist's natural allies — the universality of stupidity, opportunism, and corruption in the political realm and people's endless ability to cause reciprocal misery in the private one. A few of the most effective strips [click on a thumbnail below to begin a slideshow] include:

  • The biases and hypocrisies of a self-righteously free press are skewered on March 30, 1961 (Fox News, anyone?);
  • Co-opting dissent is laid bare on May 4, 1961;
  • The legislative branch was as ineffective and morally neutered then as now (September 27, 1962);
  • Two kids know everything there is to know about the current technology but can barely read (December 6, 1962);
  • The means of marketing inevitably corrupting the ends however decent (February 14, 1963);
  • The squalid process whereby pandering becomes a learned habit — brilliantly explicated in 10 panels (May 21, 1964);
  • The infantilization of culture, now so prevalent that it's invisible or taken for granted (March 25, 1965);
  • The government's strategy to deal with dissent was the same then as now (November 10, 1966);
  • American's punitive attitudes and disinterest in universally applied justice appear not to have changed (November 23, 1961);
  • Religion's perspective on the separation of church and state (May 28, 1964);
  • The logical capitalist response to pollution (or global warming): economic growth and exploitation (September 30, 1965).
Explainers by Jules Feiffer: March 30, 1961 Explainers by Jules Feiffer: May 4, 1961 Explainers by Jules Feiffer: September 27,
1962 Explainers by Jules Feiffer: December 6, 1962 Explainers by Jules Feiffer: February 14, 1963 Explainers by Jules Feiffer: May 21, 1964 Explainers by Jules Feiffer: March 25, 1965 Explainers by Jules Feiffer: November 10, 1966 Explainers by Jules Feiffer: November 23, 1961 Explainers by Jules Feiffer: May 28,
1964 Explainers by Jules Feiffer: September 30, 1965
Explainers by Jules Feiffer
March 30, 1961

Feiffer had to stake out a position for each of these strips and then think through how to express that position satirically with as much wit and force and artistry that he could muster. Each one of the strips in this book could be the subject of a Ph.D. thesis or at least a term paper; mercifully, space does not allow for such extensive exegesis here, but readers should find Feiffer's thoughts behind a few representative strips insightful. Feiffer had a number of pet peeves that he assailed repeatedly. One of them was political middle-of-the-roadism (uncannily relevant in the era of Clintonian triangulation, which has become part of the the Democratic party platform). Consider the strips that feature spokesmen for the Radical Middle (July 25, 1963, October 24, 1963), or strips about mere wishy-washiness or talking out of both sides of one's mouth (January 18, 1962, October 27, 1966). "I thought middle-ism was a great danger because the voice of the middle — or Radical Middle, as I called it — was in its guise pf reasonableness exacerbating our problems while pretending to address them. If you look back, the responsible moderate position on Martin Luther King Jr. was that he was a dangerous radical, alienating supposed allies, establishment blacks, and white liberals."

Feiffer considered himself a radical in contradistinction to liberalism, which he felt was insufficiently principled. "The liberalism as espoused in the 1950s and '60s was couched in an official anti-communism and a fear of being termed a 'red' or 'pinko' that made liberals shy away from positions one would have expected them to take. Liberals had to be dragged kicking and screaming to take positions on the issues that seemed obvious to me."

Feiffer published a strip about LBJ (April 16, 1964) in which a friend of Johnson's relates going on a reckless joyride with him. Considering that Johnson would later fall victim to some of Feiffer's most biting commentary, I was puzzled by the opacity of this strip. "Here was my problem with Johnson in those first nine months in office after the [JFK] assassination: I thought he was brilliant, our most reform-minded President since FDR: The Voting Rights Act, the Poverty Program…all I could come up with as subject matter was his stylistic excesses. My hands were tied. I had a President I liked!

"And then he ran for president as a peace candidate against the dangerous Barry Goldwater, and within no time after his election victory, escalated the war in Vietnam. As a result of what I took to be a personal betrayal, I became a much improved political cartoonist."

Six weeks after the assassination, Feiffer wrote and drew his last strip about JFK (January 2, 1964). It is one of Feiffer's most masterfully constructed arguments (in the voice of a child reading a fairy tale), so succinctly dramatized that it would take longer to explain it than to read it. He appeared to assert that Kennedy's election inaugurated a reinvigorated period of public debate over political and social issues. Was this a fair reading? "Yes, [the Kennedy administration] did that," Feiffer confirmed. "There was a lot that I was in disagreement about, but there was no question that it brought us out of the Eisenhower years. Eisenhower's acquiescence to the paranoid phobia of McCarthyism muzzled serious debate, disenfranchised the left, terrified liberals, and lead to a state of eight-year somnambulance that JFK drop-kicked us out of. He let Americans act like Americans again, almost as if we were a free people, something we had lost sight of. Kennedy woke us up: the Prince kissed Sleeping Beauty, she came awake again but instead of living happily ever after, we started quarreling over all those issues we so long suppressed. But the quarrel was lively, far more interesting in terms of social and foreign policy, much more instrumental about bringing about change."

Explainers by Jules Feiffer
October 20, 1966

Most of Feiffer's strips have a clearly identifiable subject — or target; about the ostensible subject, some are gut-punches and some are wry, telling, tragic-comic insights. But occasionally he'll come up with something that's not so easily categorizable, such as his seasonal dancer, who can express everything from joy to suffering. The April 21, 1966 strip is so brutal I was taken aback upon first reading it; it may be the single most fatalistic comic strip I've ever encountered in some 40 odd years of reading comics. A woman laments man's capacity to befoul life and, seeking solace, goes for a stroll in the country where she can watch the flowers grow, and — well, you'll just have to read it. I asked Feiffer what was going on in his life, or the life around him, that prompted him to express this level of despair:

"In February [1966] I had finished a first draft of Little Murders. My impression of the United States was that we had entered a period of unacknowledged nervous breakdown out of which came random violence in the non-political arena. And in the political arena, we were moralizing, misbehaving, and mangling Vietnam. We were in an escalating war, and while the protests hadn't taken shape in the way they would in a year or so, they were in formation. I thought the country was coming unglued and that many of the values that we sentimentalized had this dark side that we chose not to reveal to ourselves. I was commenting on the state of our society which I thought was indulging itself in voguish tunnelvisioned idealism, existing side by side with selfrighteousness, war crimes, and the disintegration of our values."

My initial reaction, I think, was mistaken: the strip was not so much fatalistic as a cry against fatalism or a cautionary lament at the fatalism that Feiffer saw everywhere around him at that anguished moment in American history, and therefore something borne of rage, frustration, and even optimism. About this observation, he said:

"Everything I was doing then was born out of rage and optimism. There was a lot of anger, as you can see, and I believed the role of the cartoonist was to be angry."

This volume should single-handedly as it were confirm Feiffer's place as one of the 20th century's greatest satirical artists. Asked how he would compare the period in American history when he was drawing the strips in this book to today's political circumstances, he couldn't help but draw a contrast between his optimism then and his pessimism today. This may explain why he had changed course and moved from his satirical mode — which did not survive into the 21st century — into a form about which he can display his more optimistic spirit, the children's book. His response struck me as one of personal regret and public elegy:

"In the '60s I was doing these cartoons in a time when I thought they were warning signals. These were cautionary cartoons and my plays were cautionary plays saying, 'This is where we're headed. This is not us. We can do something about it. We can change.' So, they were me working in my satirical form and trying to alert and force attention to things that weren't getting nearly enough attention. I was living in anger and despair over what was going on. But nonetheless I believed as a citizen that these were situations we would eventually do something about: The differences between rich and poor, racism, education… We end up with great talking points, a lot of lip service, but essentially we go along. That's why I think our culture today is drowning in the worship of trivia, gossip, and celebrity. Entertainment has taken over because we've stopped believing in change, in fixing our problems. We believe in The Fix, and there's not much to do about it but switch channels.

"The Obama explosion was all about this hope for turning things around. I'm all for that kind of hope. But it will be slapped down and snuffed out over and over again. Still, it will survive — and what then?

"The old fogey in me doesn't expect much, but the boy-cartoonist in me remains foolishly idealistic as ever, but not foolish enough to involve myself directly or politically again.

"The kids' books are my primary form of protest. They represent the gentler, sweeter world that, as we grow older, we go about corrupting first chance we get. No, that's too cynical. Second and third chance we get."

—Gary Groth, January 28, 2008

Explainers by Jules Feiffer
September 29, 1966

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