At the age of 85, Jules Feiffer is busy.
He’s writing children’s books, a Broadway production adapted from his first novel, The Man in the Ceiling, a revival of one of his old plays, and a sequel for a graphic novel that hasn’t even been released yet.
He’s baffled by the idea of retirement, he said. What else would he do with his time? He doesn’t like golf.
Feiffer will speak at 10:45 a.m. today in the Amphitheater with Roger Rosenblatt as part of Week One’s morning lecture series, “Roger Rosenblatt and Friends.” The two have known one another for more than 25 years, and even though this was Feiffer’s second invitation to Chautauqua from Rosenblatt, it will be his first time on the grounds. Last-minute plane issues canceled his planned morning lecture with Rosenblatt two years ago.
What the Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist and writer said he’s discovered is that he’s gotten better with age. Feiffer wanted to be a realist or adventure strip cartoonist when he first started in his early 20s. Unfortunately, he couldn’t grasp the style and, after various attempts and failures, dubbed it a lost cause.
More than 60 years later, Feiffer got the idea to write Kill My Mother, the graphic novel that will be released in August.
This “glorified comic book” allowed him to use all of his skills as a cartoonist, playwright and screenwriter, he said. It also allowed him to make another attempt working in the form he previously couldn’t master. Although he originally wanted someone else to illustrate the novel, friends convinced him to do it himself.
“They wanted me to draw it, and reluctantly and in a terrified state I embarked on it,” Feiffer said. “And with every one of the 150 pages — which took about two years to do — I thought I was going to screw it up.”
Feiffer had always thought of himself as a late developer, though, and it appeared he had picked up a few skills over the years even he didn’t know about.
“It turned out that, without paying attention, I had picked up a craft that I didn’t have in the intervening 60 or 70 years. I was better at it at 80 than I was at 20,” he said.
Kill My Mother is at the top of Feiffer’s mind, and will likely be one of the topics discussed at the lecture. Rosenblatt also hopes to talk about Feiffer’s artist process.
“I am always delighted when I can get him to talk about the process of art,” Rosenblatt said. “The way he draws, the way he decides to draw somebody thinking about something. No one has ever done that as well as Jules. And if I can get him to talk about that at Chautauqua, I think everyone is in for a treat.”