The Ghost Script
Liveright, a division of W. W. Norton & Co.
Generations of readers know Jules Feiffer from his many incarnations — Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist at The Village Voice for four decades, author of plays “Little Murders” and “The Man in the Ceiling,” and the screenplay “Carnal Knowledge” as well as illustrator for “The Phantom Tollbooth.” And most recently, creator of a trilogy of graphic novels.
The latest is “Ghost Script,” which draws heavily on the Hollywood of the 1950s when writers, producers and directors were being pressured to “name names” of communists among them in order to appease McCarthyites.
“The books didn’t start out to be political, but by the time I was doing the third, the Trump years had begun,” Mr. Feiffer said.
He sees disturbing parallels between the current political climate and the McCarthy era. “He’s gone,” he says of the vicious Senator Joseph McCarthy, “but his residue remains.”
“For a satirist and cartoonist, the great thing is we never learn from our experience,” he continued. “Americans despise that process so they repeat the same mistakes endlessly.” The McCarthy era, “the most recent self-oppression of Americans,” he said, “has parallels without end with the present day.”
“Now I’m in love with the graphic novel,” Mr. Feiffer said. His first was “Kill My Mother,” followed by “Cousin Joseph.” The new book, “Ghost Script,” completes the trilogy. They revel in the terse, tough-guy dialogue of old noir films. The villains are bigots and bullies and he wields his pen with fierce delight.
“I grew up as the middle child between two sisters, which is a perfect place to learn how to placate everyone,” Mr. Feiffer said. “My older sister was a communist — she was dictatorial and demanding — only in search of a better world, which she of course would run. She did succeed in becoming the first female editor of her high school newspaper. She brought home all these smart, hip guys. They really helped me see myself in a new way. They were like Jewish wise guys. Today, they’d be writing for someone like Jon Stewart — who I think has been an extraordinary addition to our lives.”
“I’m working now on a sci-fi graphic novel for mid-level readers,” he said. “Its heroes are a quarreling brother and sister. Their plights are secondary to their fights. It gives a tinge of real life and familiarity you don’t find in fantasy.”
After living on the Upper West Side and later trying to find a reasonable real-estate deal in the Hamptons, he was happy to discover Shelter Island. “I got sick and tired of bad faith as a way of life” he said, sitting on his back deck on a quiet street. “Here it’s a different world. Every day there’s an explosion of life.”
As if on cue, a couple of chickens scurried across the back yard. He delights in the visits from deer as well, “Especially the does with their tiny fawns.”
Along with his wife Joan (JZ) Holden, who’s also a writer and artist, Mr. Feiffer has created a comfortable space to live and work. He makes it clear he’s not thrilled with the effects of aging, like loss of hearing, but happy that he’s found a place that accommodates an 89-year old who’s letting the creative juices flow.
“This is the best place ever to work,” he said. “I can invent my own existence. Things work out in terms of my own fantasies. Let the story run wild, be free to do anything you please.”
Just then, the chickens were upstaged by a very small plane taxiing along the adjacent airstrip. He laughed like an irrepressible little boy as the pilot took off and the plane roared overhead, barely missing peeling off his neighbor’s roof.
“You see why I love it here?!” he cried with glee.