Jules Feiffer, Pulitzer-Prize winning cartoonist best known for his long running Village Voice comics strip, screenwriter, playwright, acclaimed adult and children’s author, and a pioneering witness to the birth of the American comic book industry, will publish Kill My Mother, his first original graphic novel, in Fall 2013 with the Liveright publishing division of W. W. Norton. The book was acquired by Liveright editor-in-chief and publisher Robert Weil for world rights in a deal negotiated by Feiffer’s literary agent Gail Hochman. Financial terms were not disclosed.
Described by Norton as a “noir-action-romance,” that is illustrated and written by Feiffer, the forthcoming graphic novel will be a 4-color black-and-white reproduction inspired by Feiffer’s love of gritty urban noir movies from the 1930s and 1940s. The book will trace the lives of two families over a span of 20 years that starts during World War II. The book features a cast of memorable female characters and a Norton spokesperson said the dialogue—long hailed as a highlight of Feiffer’s writing—is “unparalleled” for its “wit and humor.”
Besides acclaim as a much-lauded American cartoonist, author, playwright and screenwriter, Feiffer is no stranger to comics. He started his professional life working as an assistant to the legendary comics innovator Will Eisner as a teenager in the 1940s at the dawn of the growth of the American comic book industry in New York City. In the time since then he has created both critically acclaimed comics strips and books, rich in social commentary and political satire, as well as other highly regarded works, including The Great Comic Book Heroes, a book-length and historic critical essay that surveyed the beginning of the superhero comic book and the heroic characters—Superman, Batman, The Spirit and others—that came out of the Golden Era of American Comics.
In a phone interview the 83-year-old Feiffer said that while Kill My Mother is essentially his first graphic novel, he also said it deserved “an asterisk” because he had published, Tantrum in the early 1970s at Knopf, a book he described as “a novel in comics form.” However, Feiffer told PW that, “this is very different. People won’t know I did this book, its very realistic.” Feiffer went on to explain that, “when I started out in the comic book business, I didn’t plan on producing social and political commentary,” and said he really wanted to produce action/adventure comics strips like his cartoonist heroes, Will Eisner (The Spirit) and Roy Crane (Wash Tubbs). “But I couldn’t draw like them. Since I had no qualifications and couldn’t imitate them, I tried to do my own thing,” Feiffer said.
But Feiffer said he feels that over the years he’s picked up the drawing chops to take on a project like Kill My Mother, and besides, he said, everyone involved wanted him to do the drawing anyway. “I was hoping I could find someone who would draw it for me, but everyone wanted me to do it.” He described writing the book as “somewhere between a play and a screenplay, which are things I have some experience with,” and said he’s done about 30 pages of the book so far and is completing about three pages a week.
“Now I seem to be able to work in the adventure story drawing style. All of this comes out of my early love of Dashiell Hammet and Raymond Chandler,” Feiffer said. “This is as exciting as anything I’ve ever done. I grew up loving this kind of work as a kid and now in my dotage I’m able to go back and imitate it for some reason. I seem to have picked up enough drawing skills over the years to get by.”