Jules Feiffer: “Kill My Mother”

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At the age of 86, Jules Feiffer still has the ability to reinvent himself and stretch in surprising new directions. Knowing how I love him, the Mad Marchioness got me his new graphic novel Kill My Mother for Christmas. While the graphic novel is a relatively new art form, the book brings Feiffer back to his origins as an apprentice working for Will Eisner on the dark, hard-boiled comic The Spirit. Kill My Mother is a gritty noir, set in the 1930s and 40s, drawing from Hammett and Chandler and Billy Wilder and Howard Hawks and James M. Cain. What grim humor it contains is comedy of character. The secretary of a sleazy private eye is drawn into a missing person’s case, with a series of Chandlersque coincidences also drawing in her teenage daughter (who is motivated by the titular Elektra Complex) and her boyfriend, and others, on a twisty, turny journey that takes us from “Bay City” (isn’t that where Starsky and Hutch are from?) to Hollywood to the war-torn South Pacific. Most impressively, the story is driven entirely by its female characters, including (spoiler alert) some we could have sworn were male. If you only know Feiffer’s children’s books, or those political cartoons with philosophizing dancers, then you may not realize how brutal he can be. This is the same Feiffer who could create Little Murders and Carnal Knowledge….paired with that New York kid who was raised on a diet of pulp. His draftsmanship is still in fine form, and this looks like a hell of a lot of work for a man of his age. Most impressive. I wonder what the tough old bird is cooking up next?

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