Around the Island

Friday Night Dialogue coming up: “My Country ‘Tis Of …?”

Celebrate Lincoln’s birthday with a special Friday Night Dialogue program featuring two award-winning Island writers.

Nonagenarian cartoonist, author, playwright and all around polymath Jules Feiffer will hold forth in a wide-ranging conversation moderated by author and Reporter columnist Bob Lipsyte on Friday, Feb. 12. Sponsored by the Shelter Island Library, the program will commence at 7 p.m. via Zoom.

Mr. Feiffer, born in that hard year of 1929, will reflect on that other hard year of 2020 and how he went from the American dream of his youth to the gated community of his old age. From the perspective of 65 years as an Oscar-winning screenwriter, Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist and social commentator, Mr. Feiffer will ruminate on whether Dr. Martin Luther King’s declaration that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice, was overly optimistic, as the America he now observes seems to be bending toward injustice and even civil war.

Rocked by the events at the Capitol on Jan. 6, Mr. Feiffer will opine on the first days of the Biden presidency and how much of this feeling of betrayal is the legacy of Trumpism and how much is the sad realization that the American dream may have been a long-time con job.

His current disillusionment stands in stark contrast to the finale of his 2009 memoir, “Backing into Forward.” Then he wrote: “We’ve had an impossible election and Barack Obama is president. The first president I’ve been smitten with since 1932! Now I am an American again. I am proud … Yes, I know everything can go wrong. I know that my hopes can crash and burn … But I have rediscovered illusion … My glass is half-full.”

A scrawny, under-sized kid born at the start of the Great Depression, Mr. Feiffer had no interest or aptitude for that lingua franca of a Bronx childhood — street and schoolyard sports. “My enemies are armed not with guns but with balls and baseball gloves and broomsticks,” he wrote in his memoir. 

But, salvation came through his nascent artistic ability. “I have chalk,” he wrote, “that’s my weapon.” Sketching pictures of such cartoon heroes as Popeye, Tom Mix and Dick Tracy on the neighborhood sidewalks not only kept the bullies at bay but accorded him grudging respect from his former tormentors. “Inadvertently, I had stumbled onto the use of comics as judo,” he wrote.

Mr. Feiffer went on to have a Zelig-like career. Upon graduating high school, he showed up at the office of one of his favorite cartoonists, Will Eisner. Though Eisner wasn’t impressed by Feiffer’s artistic abilities, he hired him, first as a lowly studio man and then later, when his writing skills became apparent, he began penning the dialogue balloons for Eisner’s drawings. The two went on to collaborate on The Spirit for over a decade.

He became a staff cartoonist for The Village Voice in 1956 where he produced a weekly strip called simply “Feiffer,” that ran for 42 years. During that time, he also branched out into feature movies such as “Carnal Knowledge;” animated shorts (“Munro”, for which he won an Oscar in 1961); books, editorial cartoons (his monthly strip ran on the OpEd page of the New York Times for three years); and graphic novels and plays, including “Man in the Ceiling,” which was performed at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor in 2017.

In addition to the Oscar, his many other honors include the Pulitzer Prize, awarded in 1986 for political cartoons; induction into the Comic Book Hall of Fame in 2004; as well as recognition by the Library of Congress for his “remarkable legacy” as a cartoonist. playwright, screenwriter, illustrator, author and instructor.

At 92, Mr. Feiffer hasn’t slowed down and, in addition to remaining a sharp critic of the left and the right political scene, has a new graphic novel and children’s book in progress.

As Bob Lipsyte says, “Jules has a stunning work ethic. He gets up in the morning, feeds the cats and gets to work. He just keeps plugging along.”

Join these two talented gentlemen for what is sure to be a memorable discussion. Please register at least 30 minutes ahead of time on the library’s website (silibrary.org) or by calling Jocelyn Ozolins at 631-749-0042.

And while February is a short month, it’s packed full of terrific programming.

On Friday, Feb. 19, in recognition of Black History Month, Civil Rights Activist Bob Zellner and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Diane McWhorter will present “Son of the South.”

Sponsored in conjunction with the Shelter Island Health and Wellness Alliance, this is part of the Necessary Bridges series.

And to wrap up the month, journalist David Browne and composer/musician Pat Irwin will have a discussion about the music scene in downtown New York City in the 1970-80’s.

Both programs will be held via Zoom, so even if the weather turns frightful, you can still enjoy a great evening.

See you @ the library!