Jules Feiffer was born on 26 January 1929 in the Bronx, New York City. After attending the James Monroe High School he studied at the Art Students' League. He then went on to study at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn from 1947 to 1951, while working as an assistant on Will Eisner's comic The Spirit, featuring the eponymous masked detective. When Eisner left in 1952 Feiffer contributed scripts - with Klaus Nordling - from issue 40 onwards, and from issue 73 Feiffer was the main writer. In 1949 he created his first comic feature - "Clifford" - as part of the Comic Book Section of The Spirit.
Feiffer's career was interrupted in 1951 when he was drafted into the US Army during the Korean War, serving until 1953. In the army he produced animated cartoons for the Signal Corps, and began to create his famous character "Munro" - a four-year-old boy drafted into the Army by mistake. In 1956 Feiffer offered some of his cartoons to the recently-established Village Voice, and they began running his weekly socio-political strip under the title "Sick, Sick, Sick." This was later renamed "Feiffer" when he tired of explaining that the original title didn't refer to his humour - as had been claimed by Newsweek and Time - but to society itself.
Feiffer recalled that when his strip began, American humour still revolved around "insults and gags": "It was Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, Burns and Allen, Ozzie and Harriet. There was no such thing as comedy about relationships, nothing about the newly urban and collegiate Americans. What I was interested in was using humor as a reflection of one's own confusion, ambivalence and dilemma, dealing with sexual life as one knew it to be." The new style proved very successful, and Feiffer's strip was widely syndicated. In 1958 a selection of the strips was published in the USA as Sick, Sick, Sick, and in the following year it was reprinted in Britain.
In his introduction to the British edition of Sick, Sick, Sick Kenneth Tynan detected the influence of Kenneth Bird - "Fougasse" - on Feiffer's work: "'Fougasse', many years ago, introduced to Punch the idea that Feiffer has since developed and perfected...the idea of building a page of illustrated comedy on the small changes of expression that cross the faces of people to whom nothing in particular is happening except talk and thought."
In Britain "Feiffer" was published by the Observer, and in 1962 Victor Weisz ("Vicky") admitted that he was "a great fan", claiming that it "has really revolutionised the whole strip cartoon." Traditionalists like Basil Hone were less impressed, and in 1965 Hone dismissed Feiffer as one of the "passing fashions" of cartooning - someone "whose long-winded pieces of social pleading, couched in the jargon of the psychiatristâ€™s couch, seem somehow sadly typical of the 'Observer' readership."
The "Feiffer" strip ran in the Observer until 1978, when it was succeeded by John Glashan's "Genius" strip. In 1960 an animated version of "Sick, Sick, Sick" entitled Munro won an Academy Award for the best Short-Subject Cartoon, and in the following year a play entitled The Explainers, featuring characters from the strip, was staged at Chicago's Playwrights' Cabaret.
Feiffer has also written novels and plays, and illustrated children's books. In 1967 he wrote the black comedy Little Murders, which won the London Theatre Critics, Outer Circle Critics and Obie Awards, and in 1971 was released as a film. Feiffer has also written the screenplays for several feature films, most notably Carnal Knowledge (1971) and Popeye (1980). In 1986 he was awarded a Pulitzer prize for his editorial cartoons.
- CSCC archive, transcript of Vicky's comments on "Two of a Kind", 6 March 1962.
- Basil Hone "Drawing the Joke", The Old Lady, March 1965, pp.21-24.