From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Before Feiffer received a 1986 Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning, his animated Munro
won an Oscar in 1961. His career encompassed everything from comic strips (Village Voice
), novels (Ackroyd
) and plays (Little Murders
) to children's books (Bark
), nonfiction (The Great Comic Book Heroes
) and screenplays (Carnal Knowledge
). Retracing his path of past creative pursuits, he takes anecdotal detours to introduce the talented people he met along the way. As a kid (he was born in 1929), drawing comic strip characters on the sidewalk was a way to avoid Bronx bullies: I was never not afraid. Serving an apprenticeship with cartoonist Will Eisner, he felt he was a fraud (My line was soft where it should be hard, my figures amoebic when they should be overpowering), so he instead graduated to ghostwriting Eisner's The Spirit
. His account of hitchhiking cross-country invades Kerouac territory, while his ink-stained memories of the comics industry rival Michael Chabon's Pulitzer Prize–winning fictional portrait. Two years in the military gave Feiffer fodder for the trenchant Munro (about a child who is drafted). Such satirical social and political commentary became the turning point in his lust for fame, which finally happened, after many rejections, when acclaim for his anxiety-ridden Village Voice
strips served as a springboard into other projects. 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. (Mar. 16)
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What critics seemed to appreciate most about Backing into Forward
was its disregard for convention. Feiffer relates pathetic tales from his childhood without reservations or unnecessary dramatization; he frankly admits his lack of feeling for his parents and moves along. He states his youthful desire for fame but then discusses notable characters from the 1960s and 1970s as if they were just people from the neighborhood (which, in many cases, they were). This honest, but ambling, style annoyed the critics who wanted a more substantial account of Feiffer's life, but by and large, all were charmed by his lack of pretension or regard for what anyone else thinks his memoir (or life) should be.