Backing into Forward: A Memoir

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Subversive, funny, and effortlessly droll, Jules Feiffer’s cartoons were all over New York in the 1960s and ’70s—featured in the Village Voice, but also cut out and pinned to bulletin boards in offices and on refrigerators at home. Feiffer describes himself as “lucking into the zeitgeist,” and there’s some truth to the sentiment; Feiffer’s brand of satire reflected Americans’ ambivalence about the Vietnam War, changing social mores, and much more.

Feiffer’s memoir, Backing into ...

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Subversive, funny, and effortlessly droll, Jules Feiffer’s cartoons were all over New York in the 1960s and ’70s—featured in the Village Voice, but also cut out and pinned to bulletin boards in offices and on refrigerators at home. Feiffer describes himself as “lucking into the zeitgeist,” and there’s some truth to the sentiment; Feiffer’s brand of satire reflected Americans’ ambivalence about the Vietnam War, changing social mores, and much more.

Feiffer’s memoir, Backing into Forward, like his cartoons, is sharply perceptive with a distinctive bite of mordant humor. Beginning with his childhood in Brooklyn, Feiffer paints a picture of a troubled kid with an overbearing mother and a host of crippling anxieties. From there, he discusses his apprenticeship with his hero, Will Eisner, and his time serving in the military during the Korean War, which saw him both feigning a breakdown and penning a cartoon narrative called “Munro” that solidified his distinctive aesthetic as an artist. While Feiffer’s voice grounds the book, the sheer scope of his artistic accomplishment, from his cartoons turning up in the New Yorker, Playboy, and the Nation to his plays and film scripts, is remarkable and keeps the narrative bouncing along at a speedy clip. A compelling combination of a natural sense of humor and a ruthless dedication to authenticity, Backing into Forward is full of wit and verve, often moving but never sentimental.

“Jules Feiffer’s original and neurotic voice. . . . reinvented comics in the 1950s and made possible what’s now called the ‘graphic novel.’ His engaging new memoir is told in that same witty and perceptive New York cadence, mellowed and laced with wisdom. He’s an inspiration.”—Art Spiegelman

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review

Backing into Forward is . . . .youthful, full of insouciance, vanity and playfulness. While other accomplished men bronze their success or dip it in amber, Feiffer treats his own as one big wonderful caper.”

— David Carr

The New York Times Book Review - David Carr

Backing into Forward is . . . .youthful, full of insouciance, vanity and playfulness. While other accomplished men bronze their success or dip it in amber, Feiffer treats his own as one big wonderful caper.”
Art Spiegelman

“Jules Feiffer’s original and neurotic voice. . . . reinvented comics in the 1950s and made possible what’s now called the ‘graphic novel.’ His engaging new memoir is told in that same witty and perceptive New York cadence, mellowed and laced with wisdom. He’s an inspiration.”
David Carr
Reading Feiffer, you know where the truth lies because it is there on every page—resonant, self-lacerating and frequently hilarious…It is a good life he's had, and in Backing Into Forward, well told in every respect.
—The New York Times Book Review
Michiko Kakutani
Backing into Forward provides the reader with a sharply evocative portrait of the author's youth in the Bronx, where he says he grew up a terrified, cowardly child, who "sidestepped arguments, fled confrontations, pedaled away from fistfights." And the book proves just as nimble at limning the literary world of Manhattan…when Backing Into Forward sticks to the story of his life and the evolution of his craft, it succeeds in sounding like the best of Mr. Feiffer's cartoons: funny, acerbic, subversive, fiercely attuned to the absurdities in his own life and in the country at large.
—The New York Times
Kirkus Reviews
In characteristically wry tones, the celebrated cartoonist/playwright/illustrator looks back at a six-decade (and counting) working life, paying particular attention to his early influences. First among these are the comic strips and superhero comics that Feiffer (Passionella and Other Stories, 2006, etc.) read and copied in his Bronx youth; he pays warm tribute to their creators throughout his memoir. Second-and looming so large that she practically becomes the protagonist in major portions of the book-is his mother (his father rates only a few passing mentions), a notably insensitive figure who, he writes, "never failed to fail me." She did, however, wean her son of any need to rely on the approval or judgments of others in his work, politics or private life. With chapter heads like "Lucking Into The Zeitgeist" and "Heckle and Jeckel [sic] Meet Mike and Elaine," Feiffer retraces his career from a post-World War II apprenticeship in the studio of the legendary Will Eisner and the beginnings of a decades-long association with the Village Voice, to his establishment as a fixed star in the New York cultural firmament and a powerful voice of the New Left, to his most recent turn as a popular children's-book author. The author describes himself as a "hardworking, never-resting combination of talent and fraud," and he freely drops names and opinions ("Now, I had loved Annie Hall, and I used to like Woody"), which create a winning portrait of his literary and artistic milieu. Feiffer dishes up a self portrait notable for authentically sudden switches from self-effacement to touchy pride, righteous anger to bemusement, vulnerability to urbane loftiness. A touching, penetrating memoir-though fartoo sparsely illustrated.
From the Publisher
National Jewish Book Award Finalist!

"Resonant, self-­lacerating and frequently hilarious . . . . The voice in Backing Into Forward is not spry, not pretty energetic for an old person, but youthful, full of insouciance, vanity and playfulness. While other accomplished men bronze their success or dip it in amber, Feiffer treats his own as one big, wonderful caper.” 
The New York Times Book Review

“[Backing Into Forward] succeeds in sounding like the best of Mr. Feiffer’s cartoons: funny, acerbic, subversive, fiercely attuned to the absurdities in his own life and in the country at large.”
Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

“Writing with wit, angst,  honesty, and self-insights, Feiffer shares a vast and complex interior emotional landscape. Intimate and entertaining, his autobiography is a revelatory evocation of fear, ambition, dread, failure, rage, and, eventually, success.”
Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Feiffer is a fantastic raconteur, a thoroughly engaging narrator of his life, whether recollecting 1950s Greenwich Village and Brooklyn, his false starts at love and sex, his failed first marriage, his happy remarriage or parenthood. However entertaining his anecdotes are, nothing is more absorbing than the passages in which Feiffer talks about his struggles and triumphs as an artist. It's fascinating to read about his process, which is intuitive and spontaneous rather than analytical . . . . Best of all, a number of Feiffer's drawings, from various stages of his life, are interspersed throughout the book. His writing voice, just like his drawing style, is loose and accessible, making you feel as though you've spent time in his charming presence.”
The Dallas Morning News

“Lively and engaging . . . . Backing Into Forward is a fine companion to [Feiffer’s] art. It's also an illuminating book about the creative process, an entertaining read, and a cautionary tale about an era that really doesn't deserve a memorial.”
The Village Voice
“At 81, [Feiffer’s] time has come. Again. And this wonderfully weird and revealing book proves it. [Backing Into Forward] has all the neurotic splendor and self-protective disingenuousness of truth. It's by turns entertaining and gripping about the life of a wildly talented man who was bad at sports, bad at school he never went to college and wasted years fearing discovery and by his own cheerful admission, not all that great at drawing either. But look at the deeply neurotic and emaciated lines in any characteristic Feiffer cartoon. No one ever drew late-20th century urban American civilization any better. In memoir form, he's grand company.”
The Buffalo News

“People usually read the memoirs of famous people for a front-row seat to an important life, but Feiffer’s rambunctious, rambling autobiography treats this notion with satire and self-deprecation . . . . Consequently, Backing Into Forward isn’t a portrait of the artist. But it is a remarkable you-are-there remembrance of the times that created the author, and the verbosity and rage that fueled him.”
Time Out New York

"Feiffer's book is as penetrating and lacerating as his strips have always been, except that here, Feiffer's target is Feiffer himself. He writes like he draws—loosely, almost casually, yet somehow with precision."

"Vivid, hilarious and brutally self-analytic."

“A book that pulls the witty, subversive and celebrated writer-cartoonist into sharp focus . . . . By the end, I was circling passages and wondering about the nature of genius . . . . Peppering the book are reprints of Feiffer’s cartoons and illustrations, though my favorite are the newly made “last panels” with which he closes the memoir . . . . Full of movement and energy, the drawings make an elegant finish to a book I can tell will stick with me like a good friend.”
Cleveland Plain Dealer

"Jules Feiffer's account of his multifaceted career will delight that generation of readers for whom his whimsical, sardonic and often politically barbed Village Voice cartoons were a cultural touchstone."
The Washington Post

 “A thoughtful, introspective cartoonist who can also write beautifully? Yes, it is possible. Backing into Forward is vivid, buoyant, and even a little discomfiting in its candor. I couldn't put down.”
Chris Ware

“Jules Feiffer, prolific hand and eye behind so many brilliant comics, screenplays, novels, illustrations and now this fine, humane autobiography, remains one of the signature voices of a long era of American satire and dissent, the bridge from Lenny Bruce to The Simpsons.”
Jonathan Lethem
“Jules Feiffer’s original and neurotic voice—expressing the whiny child in every adult and the world-weary sophisticate inside every kid—reinvented comics in the 1950s and made possible what’s now called the ‘graphic novel.’ His engaging new memoir is told in that same witty and perceptive New York cadence, now mellowed and laced with wisdom. He’s an inspiration.”
Art Spiegelman
Backing into Forward is dark and charming, touching and barbed and crackling with wit. An important book by a critical artist that sheds light on his fascinating life and the most vibrant period in the life of American culture.”
Michael Chabon
“Self-lacerating and hilarious, well written, smart—in short, unfailing Feiffer.”
Peter Matthiessen

“For those of us for whom Sick Sick Sick was the first glimmer of cool, who fled to the Village Voice for forty years to get Feiffer's take on our American disasters, and who learned the dark truth about men from Carnal Knowledge, this is the book that finally explains how one guy did all that. Backing into Forward is not only a hilarious memoir by the dazzling, discomfiting comet that is Jules Feiffer, but a rambunctious and vivid cultural history by an American master.”
Honor Moore
"Jules Feiffer has done the unthinkable—he's written a completely honest, tell-it-like-it-is let-it-all-hang-out memoir. But it's totally in character.  He's been nailing the bad guys with his pen for decades."
Seymour Hersh
“Can you smile and grit your teeth at the same time? That's what Jules Feiffer's hilarious, savage memoir makes you want to do. Don't miss it.”
Anthony Lewis

The Barnes & Noble Review

Jules Feiffer's had a pretty remarkable career over the past 60 years or so. After becoming the pioneering cartoonist Will Eisner's assistant as a teenager, he drew a long-running, ferocious comic strip for the Village Voice (initially called "Sick, Sick, Sick," later just "Feiffer"), wrote a series of plays, novels and screenplays, and eventually settled into creating children's books. This lively, digressive memoir details his evolution from skinny, put-upon Bronx Jewish kid to skinny, put-upon, world-renowned satirist, by way of stints on the open road and in the Army; it's the equivalent of listening to a terrific raconteur's well-polished anecdotes.

Like his characters, Feiffer's got a superiority complex that keeps colliding with an inferiority complex, and a knack for turning neurotic self-examination into comedy: an agonizing stomachache he describes abruptly disappearing when he finally admits out loud that he hates his mother could have come straight out of one of his early cartoons. Even after he's achieved fame, he seems hardly able to believe that he's in the same circle as other bold-face names -- there's a hilarious bit about watching Marlene Dietrich and Kenneth Tynan discuss "Papa" Hemingway ("Apparently, I was the only one at the table who knew I was a fraud").

After Backing Into Forward gets past the early-years-of-bitter-struggle part of Feiffer's story, he's got fewer stories to relate. The process of writing his 1967 play "Little Murders" at Yaddo is more or less the climax of the book; the subsequent forty years of his career are relegated to the book's final fifty pages. But the fun part of Backing Into Forward is less thedetails of Feiffer's work, and his brushes with other notables, than his keen-edged, blood-speckled wit, which he turns on himself as often as on the cruel world around him.

--Douglas Wolk

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226240350
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 4/10/2012
  • Pages: 456
  • Sales rank: 1,374,599
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Jules Feiffer is a cartoonist, playwright, screenwriter, and children’s book author and illustrator. He has taught at the Yale School of Drama, Northwestern University, and Dartmouth College, and currently teaches at Stony Brook Southampton College. Over the course of his career, he has won a Pulitzer Prize and a George Polk Award for his cartoons; an Obie for his plays; an Academy Award for the animation of his cartoon satire, Munro; and Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Writers Guild of American and the National Cartoonist Society.


Born the Bronx in 1929, Jules Feiffer got his first taste of the artistic accolades that were to come his way in the form of a gold medal awarded to him at the age of five in a school art contest. His love of art persisted throughout his childhood -- and after forging a career as a Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist, he would find success writing and illustrating books for children himself.

After high school, Feiffer’s talent for drawing led him to the Art Students League of New York and later earned him admittance to Brooklyn’s renowned Pratt Institute. His first paying job as a cartoonist was under the tutelage of idol Will Eisner, the famous father of the classic 1940s cartoon, “The Spirit.” Feiffer’s apprenticeship and fledgling comic strip career were interrupted, however, when he was drafted into the Army. There, he spent what little free time he was allowed doodling sketches with a decidedly anti-military bent, and his famous “Munro” character -- a four-year-old boy drafted into the Army by mistake -- was born.

After serving his time in the Army, Feiffer developed the comic strip Sick, Sick, Sick: A Guide to Non-confident Munro, which was later renamed, simply, Feiffer. The strip appeared regularly in publications from The Village Voice to The New York Times from 1956 to 1997, and Feiffer’s trademark style -- stark, scribbled figures emoting against a white background -- was promptly adopted by political cartoonists around the world. In April of 1958, an animated rendition of Sick, Sick, Sick won an Academy Award in the Short-Subject Cartoon category, and in 1996, Feiffer was awarded the Pulitzer for his biting editorial cartoons.

Feiffer's knack for capturing the turmoil of his times carried over from cartoons into other media. His play Little Murders -- a wry exploration of violence in urban life -- garnered several accolades when it was presented in 1967, among them the London Theatre Critics, Outer Circle Critics and Obie Awards. As New York Times theater reviewer Clive Barnes commented, "[Feiffer] muses on urban man, the cesspool of urban man's mind, the beauty of his neurosis, and the inevitability of his wilting disappointment." Feiffer's other plays include White House Murder Case (1970) and Anthony Rose (1990). In addition, Feiffer wrote the screenplays for several feature films, most notably Carnal Knowledge (1971) and Popeye (1980).

Feiffer’s motivation to write his first children’s book, according to legend, came from good old-fashioned spite. The story goes that a longtime friend of Feiffer's (who he won’t name) came up with a concept for a children's book based on their shared love of the movies. Feiffer agreed to hand over the illustrating duties to his friend and give writing it a shot, and toughed out every line. When he called the friend to report on his progress, Feiffer found out -- to his fury -- that his friend had decided to write it himself. Although his friend later apologized, Feiffer decided that in the end, they should each do their own books. He changed the subject of his work in progress from the movies to comic books, and The Man in the Ceiling -- a semi-autobiographical tale bout a boy and his love for drawing -- was born.

Selected by Publishers Weekly as one of the best children's books of 1993, the book was a runaway hit with kids and parents. Feiffer continued writing for his new, less jaded audience, offering up A Barrel of Laughs, A Vale of Tears (1998), I Lost My Bear (1998), Meanwhile… (1999), Bark, George (1999), I’m Not Bobby!, (2000) By the Side of the Road (2001), and The House Across the Street (2002). Far from the stark stencils that are his political cartoons, his children’s illustrations wriggle with life, their curvier lines in no way softening the lessons within.

Good To Know

Feiffer is the only cartoonist to have a comic strip published by The New York Times.

A fan of comic strips from an early age, Feiffer started to draw at the age of six. His favorites were Flash Gordon, Popeye, and Terry and the Pirates.

Feiffer didn't want Jack Nicholson cast for the lead in the 1971 film Carnal Knowledge, for which he wrote the screenplay. Director Mike Nichols fought Feiffer on the casting and finally convinced him to approve the up-and-coming actor.

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    1. Hometown:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      January 26, 1929
    2. Place of Birth:
      New York, New York
    1. Education:
      The Pratt Institute, 1951

Read an Excerpt

Backing Into Forward

A Memoir
By Jules Feiffer

Nan A. Talese

Copyright © 2010 Jules Feiffer
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780385531580

Chapter 1

Food was out to get me. Food devoured me with every mouthful I took. I chewed for minutes without being able to swallow. I gagged, spit up into a napkin, then secretly shook the remains into the garbage when my mother’s back was turned. She didn’t suspect.

Much in the manner of immigrant Jewish mothers of her time and circumstance, my mother placed all her hopes and dreams on me. She wanted me to be big and healthy. But I wouldn’t cooperate. I was small for my age and underweight for any age. I could count my own ribs when I stripped down to my shorts.

“It’s good for you,” was her unpersuasive catch phrase as she tried to shovel noodle pudding down my throat. “It’s your favorite,” she insisted against the evidence of my tightly sealed lips. “I have no time for this,” she pleaded.

She had anointed me, the only male child in the family, to succeed where she had not. But at the rate I was going, I had three months to live. Or so my mother worried. I knew I’d do fine if I could only get away from her noodle pudding. I despised her noodle pudding.

My mother had failed to live up to her early promise as a fashion designer. It was never clear why her career had goneflat, but what was clear, much too clear, was how she toiled, night and day, over her drawing table stationed in a corner of our living room, sandwiched between the piano no one knew how to play and the bookcase stacked with Russian, French, and English novels (read by my father) and uplifting essays by Emerson and others (studied by my mother). She drew her fashion sketches, cloaks and suits they were called, in pencil and lightly tinted watercolor. Three days a week she packed them up and subwayed down to the Garment District on Seventh Avenue, where she peddled them door-to-door to dress manufacturers. Each sketch earned her three dollars. Since my father perennially failed at business and his various other jobs didn’t last that long, it was my mother’s three-dollar sketches that brought us through hard times.

She performed dutifully the roles of breadwinner, wife, and mother, unsought obligations inflicted on her by a bad choice in husbands and the Great Depression. She was said to be good at design, but how was I to know? Except for superheroes in tights and capes, I was indifferent to fashion. But from an early age I was forced to observe how absent pleasure was from her work, how often she mentioned the strain, her headaches, her throbbing temples—

I was meant to grow up to right the wrong of her stalled career, undermined by my grandparents, who prodded her into marrying Dave Feiffer. So much had been taken from her, small wonder the anxiety she brought to raising me. Her offers of food felled me like a battering ram. She pushed, cajoled, browbeat, destroyed my appetite for the very things she offered. “Eat, it’s delicious,” “You’ll love this, you know you’ll love this.” This is not the job she wanted. What she wanted was to get on with the day, get back to her drawing board, dive deep into the world of fashion, which, though it offered few rewards, remained her single escape from this marriage she was drafted into. Her aim was to stuff me at least to the extent that I wasn’t a physical embarrassment to the neighbors, a reproach to her reputation as a mother, forty pounds at seven years, my reminder of her failure.

I had my appetites, not for food but for comics. I didn’t see that food had anything in it to sustain me. I ate only because I wanted to be a good boy. I wanted to keep my mother happy. Not that I, or anyone else, could keep her happy. But more about not keeping my mother happy later.

Comics: I ate them, I breathed them, I thought about them day and night. I learned to read only so that I could read comics. Nothing else was worth the effort. Marginalized from every aspect of the Bronx world I inhabited, my only escape was a life of escapism: reading comics, going to movies, listening to radio serials and favored comedians — Jack Armstrong, I Love a Mystery, Fibber McGee and Molly, Charlie McCarthy, Jack Benny, Burns and Allen — each transporting me out of real life into a totally impossible fantasy reality that I bought as a metaphor for my future.
My alternate dream was to someday work myself into the ranks of the great cartoonists. Getting to the top, where I’d be invited to hang out with Milton Caniff of Terry and the Pirates, Will Eisner of The Spirit, Roy Crane of Wash Tubbs and Captain Easy, E. C. Segar of Popeye, Raeburn Van Buren of Abbie an’ Slats, Alex Raymond of Flash Gordon, Al Capp of Li’l Abner . . .
These men were heroes! Brilliance in four-paneled daily strips and full-page gloriously colored Sunday extravaganzas that they routinely created. I loved the look, the dazzling interplay of words and pictures that leaped off the comics page at me, a preferred universe to the one I was mired in. But not for long. If I had anything to say about it. I lived in circumstances where I was poor (a drawback in real life, an incitement to high adventure and rags to riches in comics), where I was small and powerless, so inadequate that I couldn’t bat, throw, or catch a ball (a disaster in real life, but in comics a self-imposed limitation that hid my superpowers from evildoers).
I could have used superpowers. If you grew up poor in the Bronx during the Great Depression, missing out on the joys of boyhood as others knew them — baseball, football, basketball (fun for others, failed challenges for me) — then what was my way out? A fantasy of fame and fortune as a cartoonist! So went my exit strategy.
The scenario begins with my own Bronx version of a movie Western shootout. It’s Saturday. It’s summer. It’s Stratford Avenue in the Soundview area of the East Bronx. Five- and six-story dreary brick apartment houses line the streets. Brown, gray, and rust are the colors that dominate. On the corner of Stratford and Westchester, the Lexington Avenue El clatters by, noticeably noisiest in the middle of the night. Kaminkowitz’s drugstore is on the corner of Stratford, next to Horowitz’s vegetable store, next to a vacant lot. I worked at Kaminkowitz’s as a delivery boy when I was eleven and twelve.
Pensky’s candy store is across the street, the near corner. Pensky was important to my life because his store was where I scanned comic books before buying them. Pensky also had a soda fountain and gum ball machines and, in a booth at the back of the store, one of the few phones on the block. If my mother got a call, Pensky sent a kid (in the store for a candy or a soda), up Stratford to our house, 1235, to call my mother to the window. “Mrs. Feiffer, you’re wanted on the phone!” the kid shouted from the street.
My mother walked three flights down, meandered to the store (she had two speeds: slow and slower), ambled into Pensky’s, said, “I have a phone call, Mr. Pensky?” as if it had to be a mistake, thanked Pensky correctly but without feeling (he was a tradesman, she was a snob), and then, no matter how hot the day, closed herself off in the phone booth to take the call.
My mother minded her own business and wanted Pensky to mind his. And her children to mind ours. She kept secrets, who knew how many and of what gravity? Secrets about finances, about family, about family and finances, about disappointments, about betrayals, about debt and more debts, about so much that she couldn’t let on, could only hint at: “You’re not old enough. I’ll tell you when you’re old enough.”
   My mother’s secrets gave depth to her rigidity. And God knows, for a woman who started out a blithe spirit, the abuses that broke but did not bend her succeeded in alienating all three of her children, who were incipient blithe spirits themselves.
   She was not affectionate. Not a hugger, a holder, a kisser, a squeezer, or a pincher. She didn’t go in for bodily contact, certainly not with my father. I’ve suspected for a long time that mine was a virginal birth. I can’t prove it. But in my life I’ve never been in much of a position to prove anything. My motto has been: Even if you have to make it up, move on. That’s just one of my mottos. My other motto is: Duck!
So I’m back in the Bronx in the 1930s, which I’m told was a fine place to be if you were a different kind of poor Jewish boy than I was. I hear, now and again, from Bronx nostalgia associations and Web sites set up for expats who remember their Bronx childhoods fondly, romantically, a bit misty-eyed. That’s not how I remember it: Walking down three flights of narrow stairs from Apartment 2-F at 1235 Stratford. I have a piece of chalk in my hand instead of a gun. But walking down those stairs and out the door into the sunlight is a little like walking down a lone Western street through the swinging doors of a saloon. Gunfighters everywhere — they know they can take me. I know they can take me. My three-year-old sister, Alice, who worships the ground I walk on, even she knows they can take me.
But of course it’s not a saloon, it’s the very block I live on. My enemies are armed not with guns but with balls and baseball gloves and broomsticks. And they know when they see me walking out my front door (if they do see me, which I doubt), that I am of absolutely no consequence. I can’t hit, I can’t throw, I can’t catch.
I was missing a basic Bronx gene, the ball-playing gene. It seemed that every kid had it but me. Later, John F. Kennedy was to famously say, “Life is not fair.” He was never to know that, a generation earlier, I had proved his point over and over again.
Anyhow, back to the scenario: I have chalk, that’s my weapon. They have balls and sticks and gloves. They outsize, outweigh, and outgun me. I don’t know what I’m doing out here. I wouldn’t be here, but my mother made me. “You can’t stay in the house and draw all day.” “You need fresh air.” “Go out and play.”
    Play? If she paid attention to anything but her own rules, she’d know that I can’t play. I am physically at odds with sports. My body has been fitted with a hand that can draw but can’t catch or field a ball. She is sending her only son out to die.
    Hence the piece of chalk in my hand. At seven I have begun to strategize. If no one else, not my mother, not my father, is aware enough to look after my survival, then it’s up to me. Chalk is my weapon, the sidewalk my battleground. While they, the other, the enemy, the kids with size and muscles and coordination, take over the street, a dozen or more, batting balls, fielding base hits in and around traffic, I establish my terrain, down on my knees on the sidewalk. I draw in large, brash strokes. I don’t know what it is until I’ve laid down the first lines. Its . . . Popeye. Next I do Wimpy. I do a better Popeye than a Wimpy, but it beats any Wimpy these jocks can draw.
One or two of the athletes wander over. They trot off their turf, the street, over to my gallery on the sidewalk.
“Hey, it’s Popeye.”
“Can you draw Dick Tracy?”
I can and I do. And I am fast. They are startled by my speed.
“Can you draw Tom Mix?”
Tom Mix is a favorite cowboy star of the thirties. I draw a ten-gallon- hatted gunslinger firing with both barrels. It doesn’t matter that it doesn’t look like Tom Mix. The growing crowd is responding to me, the fastest chalk in the West.
Of course, after five or ten minutes they are bored and go back to their game. Besides, I have a limited repertoire, only so many cowboys and cartoon characters that I know how to draw or fake draw. But it doesn’t matter, I’ve made my point, I’ve taken my ground: the sidewalk. And on that sidewalk I’ve carved out a niche for myself in the neighborhood. I’m the artist.
I’ve won respect if not acceptance. Admiration if not friendship.
I’ve drawn myself into the pecking order. It’s an early use — perhaps my earliest — of a basic survivor’s technique: backing into recognition.
I figured out what the jocks couldn’t do that I could. I could draw. They couldn’t. I used their lack of talent to prove that even though I wasn’t a ball player I was visible, I existed! Inadvertently, I had stumbled onto the use of comics as judo. Talk about epiphanies.


Excerpted from Backing Into Forward by Jules Feiffer Copyright © 2010 by Jules Feiffer. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Part One: Gunslinger
Boy Cartoonist
Comics Caravan
The Bar Mitzvah Hostage
A Jewish Mother Joke
Red Ed
One Basket
Road Movie
“Jules, What Are You Doing Here?”
I Ain’t A-Gonna Be Treated This A-Way
The Secret of My Success; Or, Over the Cliff
Camp Gorgon
Fifth Street

Part Two: Famous
The Village
A Dance to Spring
The Voice
Odets is Back!
Lucking into the Zeitgeist
Our Gang
Red Scare
The Mating Dance
Heckle and Jeckle Meet Mike and Elaine
Playboy at the Second City
Alex and Al
White Liberal
The Warrior Liberal
The Adjustment
Hall of Fame
College Days
Birth Trauma
Death Trauma

Part Three: Another Country
Closet America
The Assassination of Cary Grant
Harry, The Rat
Unmaking It
Into Exile
What I Did on My Summer Vacation
First Mistake
Little Wonders
My Candidate
The Comeback Kid
Pro Bono Playwright
The Jewish Mother Cabal
No Sense of Direction; Or, How to Get from Carnal Knowledge to Bark, George
The Professor of I Don’t Know Where I’m Going with This but Let’s Find Out
Bedtime for Memoir
And in Conclusion

Last Panels

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 5 )
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 4 of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 17, 2010

    The Jules in all of us

    Jules Feiffer's easily recognizable cartoons are a favorite for us all. But how did he get to where he was backing into forward.

    The title of his book, in spite of its repetition throughout, only hit me over the head when I got about half way through. Don't we all have lives like Jules? Forget about the 5 year plan, the 10 year plan, any plan at all. Life is something we back into as he describes.

    Jules' self-deprecating style makes him all the more likeable. In spite of no college education, his prose suggests a most erudite man. His colleagues run the range from writers, cartoonists, politicians and even a spy thrown in for good measure.

    A great read which helps us examine our own path in life.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 19, 2010

    Doesn't disappoint

    I've always been a fan and this book doesn't disappoint. Warm, engaging and often very funny, I felt as if I was listening to a great conversationalist.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 22, 2012


    Amazing! Please continue!
    -Dauntless's Author
    P. S. I saw your post at Jigsaw all results. That story is by me! Chapter Nine will be from Bearpaw's perspective, or Jaypaw, maybe... not sure yet!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 17, 2012

    The Secret of Castle Hill

    Chapter Eighteen ~

    I almost immedietly crashed into another girl. She was very short, and very young, with a short spear in her hands, bright blue eyes that shone brilliantly, messy hair that stuck out in every direction, and a round face on which streatched the widest smile I have ever seen.
    "Hi, I'm Bugg!" She chirpped.
    "Er, Bugg?" I echoed. I've heard that name before...
    "Who are you?" She asked. "And who are those people behind you? Do you know them? Did you pass the test? Mr. Moonface told me I didn't pass. That stinks, right?"
    She said this all very, VERY fast.
    "Um, I'm Alora, and that's Logas and that's Frenn." I said. "And yah, we all passed."
    Bugg held up a little fist. "Punch whirlies?" She asked.
    "Uh, what?!"
    "Punch whirlies!" She explained. "Me and my brother made it up. See, a fist is a whirly and a finger is a hug..."
    I'm starting to realize Bugg is very strange indeed.
    "See, a circle like this is meat, and if you put your hand flat it's some carrots..."
    "Hey, are you Alora Swynneth?" A voice called.
    I breathed a sigh of relief as I turned around.
    "Was Bugg bithering you? I'm Tizania Flen." A golden haired girl said. She had bright green eyes and a short knife.
    "My friends call me Tiz though." She added as I shook her hand slowly.
    "Finn sent me to show you to your dormitory." Tizania said, beckoning for us to follow her.
    She led us down one passage, then another, and halted before a large wooden door.
    Tiz opened it to reveal a large room crowded with sofas and tables. There was a computer on each table, and a TV as well.
    "Well," Tizania began, "The boy's beds are through the door on the left, and the girl's beds around to the right. I'll pick you up for dinner, okay?"
    "Okay." I nodded.
    Tiz smiled, winked, then left the room.
    It was silent. No one was here.
    Frenn turned on one of the laptops, and I plopped down on a sofa beside him.
    "Hmm." He said. His face brightened. "We took back a city!" He exclaimed suddenly.
    "Really?" I turned around.
    Frenn nodded excitedly. "Captain Jenyl took Breda, which had formerly been under Jagsly's control, and his forces retreated after a short battle."
    "Mabye the war will be won before we even have to go to battle." I said.
    "The war is far from being won." Logas commented.
    I turned around, but the door swung open and in came Dinara, Lazer, and Zel- who was limping slightly.
    "Hello!" Zel greeted, sitting down across from me.
    "So, what did Finn talk to you about?" I asked.
    Lazer shrugged. "Not much. He just commented on a few things, like the bear attack."
    "It was so terrifying!" Dinara added, scooting closer to Lazer. "Those fangs... and the red eyes..." She shivered.
    "Why did they send us in there anyway?" Zel asked. "And will the battles to come, the real battles, be even worse?"
    No one could answer her question. I pondered it. Would the real battles be worse? Was what we had experienced today only a fraction of what was to come?
    I remembered what I had seen in the blue orb. Janred had been dying, and then the scene had shifted to reveal a battle. A bloody battle in which people were dying left and right. Aunt Brolli was dead. Jalock was dying. And Logas was about to be struck down...
    I glanced at him, a thin shadow in the corner. He might die. I might die. I could have died today. I might die tommarrow.
    And if the Shadow Trial was only a fraction of a real battle, how could all the training in the world prepare is?

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