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Explainers; or, the more things change...

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Thursday, Aug 27, 2009

Explainers: The Complete Village Voice Strips 1956-66

(Fantagraphics; US: 28 May 2008)

The Fantagraphics release of the first volume of Jules Feiffer’s Village Voice cartoons, Explainers: The Complete Village Voice Strips 1956-1966, is an amazing time capsule into an era when the Voice stood for investigative journalism and individualistic writing, and people were just starting to realize that the personal really is the political.


Feiffer had no intention of inventing the adult comic strip in 1956. After working with Will Eisner on The Spirit and serving in the Army, he wrote several book-length comics which he was trying to get published.  But no one wanted to take a chance on an unknown writer who wrote adult satires illustrated in a style associated with children’s comics.
  
Fortunately Feiffer noticed that all the publishers who were turning him down had copies of a newspaper called The Village Voice on their desks.  Figuring that publishing in the Voice would at least get him some name recognition, Feiffer showed his work to the editors and was accepted on the spot.  The rest, as they say, is history: Feiffer drew weekly cartoons for the Voice for 42 years and his distinctive style is as emblematic of the era as Norman Mailer’s prose or Robert Christgau’s music columns.


Sadly, the Voice today resembles the paper of those years in name only. But you can relive its glory years through the Fantagraphics collections of Feiffer’s works, beginning with the first release Explainers: The Complete Village Voice Strips 1956-1966. The most painful thing about the whole enterprise is how valid Feiffer’s critiques remain today. Spineless politicians? Check. Newspapers concerned only with the bottom line? Check. Hypocritical relations between the sexes? Check. Intellectual pretensions among the privileged classes? Check.

So maybe the more things change, the more they don’t really change at all—but at least Feiffer’s sardonic take on them can give you some comic relief and the assurance that other people have grappled with the same problems which plague us today.


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