Haute Spot

Jules Feiffer Draws Upon His Talents

With the stroke of his pen, Jules Feiffer has the ability to change the world. In fact, he’s been doing just that, consistently, as well as professionally, for the past 70-plus years. And there’s no sign of him slowing down any time soon.

Photo: JZ Holden

“I’ve known that I wanted to be a cartoonist from the time I was 3 or 4 years old,” says the now-93-year-old syndicated illustrator, who has been sharing his searing social and political commentary on the national stage since the 1940s and still draws every day. “It’s something that I’ve not only gotten great joy from; it’s also given me the opportunity to actually say something.”

The Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist, who lives on Shelter Island with his wife, JZ Holden, is regarded as one of the most widely read satirists in the country. He’s written more than 35 books, plays and screenplays and has seen his cartoons and illustrations regularly appear in such outlets as The Village Voice, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the London Observer, The New Yorker, Playboy, Esquire, and The Nation.

Among his most notable achievements, Feiffer has been inducted into the Comic Book Hall of Fame; he’s also written the Academy Award-winning animated short film Munro, the provocative and groundbreaking film, Carnal Knowledge, and the musical comedy feature-length film Popeye; as well as the stage plays Little Murders, Knock Knock, and Feiffer’s People; and the books The Phantom Tollbooth, The Man in the Ceiling and Kill My Mother.

It’s a lot. And there’s more, including awards from The Writers Guild of America and the Outer Critics Circle, a George Polk Award, an Inkpot Award, an Obie Award, and special distinction from The Library of Congress for his “remarkable legacy.”

“The role I have been able to play at particular times to affect our politics and sensibilities has been a gift,” he says, humbly, of his considerable contributions to the social and political fabric.

Not one to rest on his laurels, the prolific changemaker, who jokes that he maintains “a 24-hour workday … with a few naps in between,” has a slew of events slated for the summer.

First up is a pair of screenings and talks about the film Popeye at the Sag Harbor Cinema during the Memorial Day weekend. That feature-length musical comedy, which Feiffer wrote, was directed by Robert Altman and starred Robin Williams and Shelley Duvall. The Keyes Gallery in Sag Harbor will be hosting an exhibition of Feiffer’s work that will run concurrent with the event. 

That same weekend, his work will hang in a group exhibition, “Once On This Island,” curated by Margaret Garrett and in honor of the 100th anniversary of the Shelter Island Historical Society. The following month, he’ll be giving a talk with author Robert Lipsyte at the Shelter Island Library.

Looking to the future, Feiffer has two more children’s books that he’s currently working on.  One about a boy who is continually late for school and the other is about a kid who pretends that his finger is a gun. As evidenced by his massive body of work, they are both filled with outrageous exploits, a quick wit and Feiffer’s trademark joie de vivre.

“I’ve always just wanted to do the work and I’m so grateful to still be doing it,” he says, reflecting on his incredible success. “To my amazement, being able to realize these goals — even if I am half blind, stooped over and physically incapacitated in all sorts of ways … I’ve had a wonderful, very happy life.”

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