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Backing Into Forward: A Memoir Hardcover – Deckle Edge, March 16, 2010

4.0 out of 5 stars 27 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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; Playboy), novels (Ackroyd) and plays (Little Murders) to children's books (Bark; George), nonfiction (The Great Comic Book Heroes) and screenplays (Carnal Knowledge; Popeye). 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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From Bookmarks Magazine

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.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Nan A. Talese; 1St Edition edition (March 16, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385531583
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385531580
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #906,161 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I hadn't heard the term "spirit guide" when I was growing up in the Sixties. But if I had, I would probably have nominated Jules Feiffer to be mine. A Jewish-ish kid in a suburb north of Chicago, I was smart enough to see how predicated on injustice much of society of the mid-Sixties was as well as being very aware of my lack of power as a teenager to do much about it. The person who best articulated this perspective (and thus made me feel as if I weren't alone in holding it) was Jules Feiffer. In his strips, I saw someone I recognized as an older brother as he came up against stuff I knew I would come up against shortly. At a time when there weren't a lot of people to trust, on the basis of his writing and drawing I knew Feiffer was one who would give it to me straight. Not that he offered answers, but he seemed to at least identify what the true issues were accurately, and that was a pretty good start.

I came to New York in time to see the Alan Arkin productions of LITTLE MURDERS and THE WHITE HOUSE MURDER CASE, both of which knocked me out and seemed to me to be the logical next step from the sketches by Nichols and May and Second City that also spoke to me. Then CARNAL KNOWLEDGE came along (directed by Nichols), and that, too, seemed revelatory. (For those who think David Mamet invented candor between the sexes in drama, CARNAL KNOWLEDGE pre-dated Mamet's excellent SEXUAL PERVERSITY.) Again, it gave definition to my confusions.

BACKING INTO FORWARD is billed as Feiffer's memoirs. It is not a full account of his life, but it is a pretty thorough account of his thought process in the face of a changing American culture. To be accurate, it is also about Feiffer's part in CHANGING the American culture.
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Format: Hardcover
There's a certain style of parenting--intractable, relentlessly inflexible--that crushes a child. Not only does it preclude any intimacy between parent and offspring, it produces childish adults, who spend their lives forever (and often futilely) whining about the disaster that was their upbringing--unable to communicate just how bad it REALLY was, but awfully willing to try. They get stuck at age 15, and remain furious, angry children indefinitely. Jules Feiffer is one of those ex-kids.

That his Bronx upbringing was so bad is our blessing. If you've laughed (and cringed) at Feiffer's cartoons over the years, you'll agree. He's all about the socially aware pose, the skin with which we hide our icky insides from the world. His cartoon personae are, in short, obsessed at what the neighbors think. Thank goodness he got so good an education in his early life!

Lest you think he jests, he informs us his sister became a communist later in life, with an addiction to the authoritarian ministerings of Joe Stalin. How's that for a guilt-trip?! But seriously: this is one of the best autobiographies I've ever read. Feiffer's language is so beautiful that I want to quote you whole sections out of the beginning alone. Feiffer's insights into a different age--the children of WWII and the radicals they became--are spot on and beautifully expressed. But for the dearth of loving hugs from his mother, he says, he may well have been a normal person. I've of two minds on this, and secretly thank the God Feiffer doesn't believe in that he misses those hugs still. The cartoonist, playwrite and conscience of the American Left is my new favorite author, too.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Anyone who looked forward to Jule Feiffer's insightful cartoons in the '60s and '70s will relish his reflections on his difficult childhood and his subsequent success as a cartoonist. Illustrations showing his first work and his development as an artist reveal his skill as depicting the angst of not only his life but also the life of most people. At 80 and now writing children's books, Feiffer is an ideal example of someone who overcame his own feelings of inadequacy to make us laugh as we recognized ourselves in his drawing and captions.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I have to admit that Feiffer's memoir sat on my 'to be read' shelf for a long while. Two reasons -- first, the book is rather lengthy, and second, I didn't know that Feiffer's story would hold my interest.

Because Feiffer's cartoons primarily appeared in the Village Voice, my only encounters with him came through reprint books. Although very much impressed with his poignant strips that dredge all the dark places of the human psyche, I found reading the books to make his cartoons seem quite repetitive ("oh great, another dancer..."). I know had I seen the cartoons at the real-time schedule of once per week I would have been a huge fan. But I didn't have access in that mode, and I've never been one to strictly mete out the reading of a book.

So though in theory I know Feiffer is one hell of a cartoonist (and many other things -- screenwriter, novelist, playwright, etc.) I felt a bit standoffish towards reading his biography.

Once I finally jumped in, it seemed almost as if Feiffer knew that I would be his audience. The early chapters, covering his childhood, are uproariously funny and heart-rendingly touching, where most memoirs have us wondering when the author will jump ahead to the meat. Feiffer makes his readers fall in love with him right from the start, no matter what baggage you carried into the book. From there we go onto his teenage years, and becoming a cartoonist. Here he is self-effacing, droll, instructive, and, of course, talks about my favorite subject. The love deepens.

From there we go on to his rich middle and later years, in which he was politically active and started branching off into his many other careers. Now that he had me in the palm of his hand, he feeds me the stuff I thought I didn't care about.
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