If Long Island were shorter, there might not be this surprise announcement: 20 years after his debut in Bark, George, Jules Feiffer’s lovable pup will return next year in a sequel, Smart George, to be published by HarperCollins/ Michael di Capua Books, in June.
“I had tried for nearly two decades to come up with a sequel and just could never make it work until now,” Feiffer said. “It was great fun getting back to the characters.”
Born in the Bronx, Feiffer lived for years on Manhattan’s Upper West Side (“long before there was a Fairway!” he says) until he moved to eastern Long Island a few years ago, settling on Shelter Island, a ferry ride away from the easternmost point of Suffolk County. “I hated to give up the city but I had to,” said Feiffer, who will turn 91 in January (or as he puts it, “45 times two plus one.”) “I couldn’t breathe anymore, I was having trouble walking. The city reminded me of my mortality on a daily basis.”
Because of his various (minor) infirmities, Feiffer doesn’t drive. Public transportation is not an option either. When he has business in the city, he hires a car to take him to Manhattan, a three-hour trip. “To justify the expense, I force myself to write, or at least come up with an idea, by the time we get to the city,” he said.
On one of those trips two years ago, the sequel to George finally came together. Feiffer does not need to be at his desk or computer to create. “I never typed in my life until I got a laptop and then I had to learn,” he said. “I don’t think of doing any imaginative work except in longhand. I use a piece of paper to scratch things out and make sketches in the margin. It’s how I do my thinking.”
He shared the manuscript with di Capua, who also lives in eastern Long Island, and who has been Feiffer’s editor for decades. Di Capua loved the idea of a new adventure—with a counting element—for George, who, like Feiffer, suffers a bit from math anxiety. “I’ve always been lousy at math,” Feiffer said. “I’ve never been able to balance a checkbook. I often found, growing up and for that matter now, what is simple for other people is terribly complicated for me. I had to get my wife to teach me how to use the computer and it took me forever.”
Smart George will be Feiffer and di Capua’s 12th book together. The two met in the early 1990s after Feiffer wrote a draft of what would become his first children’s book, The Man in the Ceiling, and asked a friend in children’s books if he could recommend an editor. The friend, Maurice Sendak, introduced him to di Capua.
“What a joy it was to look over his shoulder while he created Smart George!” said di Capua. “His genius shines through on every page.”
“Jules Feiffer is a legend, and we’re honored to be publishing the sequel to a beloved classic,” said Suzanne Murphy, president and publisher of HarperCollins Children’s Books. Since its publication, Bark, George has sold more than 300,000 hardcover copies and has been translated into seven languages worldwide. It holds a place on the New York Public Library’s list of 100 Great Children’s Books.
Feiffer has been a cartoonist and writer for more than 60 years. He has won, among his many awards, a Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartoons he produced for the now-defunct Village Voice, and an Oscar for his animated satire, Munro.
But finishing the sequel to George, he says, is particularly satisfying because it appears to have loosened some sort of writer’s blockage: he’s already got a third adventure written, tentatively titled Park, George.
“Who knows how long I can keep this going?” he said. “I think when you stop working, something stops functioning in your brain, so my plan is to never stop working.”