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Explainers: The Complete Village Voice Strips (1956-1966) Hardcover – June 17, 2008

4.5 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Jules Feiffer has had successful careers as playwright, screenwriter, and, lately, children’s book creator but remains best known for his Pulitzer Prize–winning weekly comic strip that ran in the Village Voice for 42 years. Initially entitled Sick Sick Sick, the strip captured the era’s zeitgeist with acerbic accuracy and mordant humor and was equally incisive in skewering political foibles and gender warfare. This chunky volume, the first of four in a complete edition, shows that Feiffer was at first finding his way visually, for early installments show the strong influences of cartoonist William Steig and UPA animated cartoons. It wasn’t long, however, before he developed the strip’s hallmark willowy look and balloonless dialogue. Such Eisenhower-era themes as nuclear fallout, bohemia, and jazz figure early on, to be joined by 1966 by pollution, unisex fashions, and, above all, Vietnam. Perusal of the hundreds of intervening cartoons discovers that, for all the strip’s contemporary relevance, intellectual pretensions, the banality of television, and miscommunication between the sexes never went out of style as targets of Feiffer’s satire. --Gordon Flagg


One of the most original social and political commentators in America. (Tom Clavin - 27 East)

The modern, non-editorial-page cartoon of social and political commentary was pretty much invented by Jules Feiffer. (Booklist)

[Feiffer] ranks as one of the five most important and influential cartoonists in the latter half of the 20th century. (Rob Clough - High-Low)

A satirical masterpiece. (Roger Sabin - The Observer)

To read Explainers… is to be reminded of the absurdity of the human situation, something that might be depressing except for the fact that Feiffer’s comics will make you laugh out loud. (Rabbi Rachel Esserman - The Reporter)

His genius is in bringing larger-than-life societal trends down to the human level. Most characters serve as symbols for something larger, but they never feel anything less than human. (Mason Adams - The Roanoke Times)

Almost always in the form of near-theatrical monologues or dialogues, “Feiffer” blew poison darts at Cold War-era politics, sexual mores and America’s helpless flailing at the idea of normalcy. (Douglas Wolk - The Washington Post)

A veritable Bible of middle class American dysfunction…Feiffer reveals the depths of his subject not only through the dialogues―which are filled with psychological, social and politic depths that few cartoonists have ever plumbed―but also through an amazing skill to capture the body language so crucial to human communication…a real masterpiece worth delving into. (John E. Mitchell - North Adams Transcript)

A welcome reintroduction―or introduction, for the uninitiated―to a great cartoonist who boldly bent his medium to adult purposes long before it was commonplace to do so. (David Kamp - The New York Times Book Review)

One of―if not―the first of the early writer/artists to emerge from the comic book ghetto into the literary/art world. (Will Eisner, creator of The Spirit)

If you were a Martian trying to figure out America in the second half of the 20th century, you could do worse than to start by reading Jules Feiffer’s Village Voice cartoons. (Sarah Boslaugh - PopMatters)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Fantagraphics; 1st Fantagraphic Books Ed edition (June 17, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 156097835X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1560978350
  • Product Dimensions: 9.7 x 1.9 x 5.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #728,716 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I think Fantagraphics should be congratulated for publishing all of Feiffer's Village Voice strips. This first book of 568 pages (with three more editions to come) covers his first VV strip in October 1956 to December 1966 with one week to a page.

Gary Groth's short essay, at the front of the book, puts Feiffer into the context of the times and it seems the times were just right for his wry observations of life in the US: postwar affluence, the Organization Man consumer culture, the military/industrial complex and popular media. The other subject that Feiffer devotes many strips to are male-female relationships, frequently expressed from the male point-of-view with his two regulars: Bernard (timid, insecure) and Hue (confident, scores all the time). You'll see throughout the strips though that he's an equal opportunity satirist because he attacks everyone equally.

Feiffer's drawing style in the first few weeks with the Voice seem to me rather uncertain and varied with sometimes a thick line style, defined panels with plenty of black and speech bubbles or entire black shapes with white figures but by late fifty-seven he had settled down to his unique rendering of figures with captions frequently text-wrapped round them. His faces always seem to display the emotions reflected in the words.

The book is a rather handsome production, landscape to accommodate the strips with each one month/week/year dated and surprisingly a three page index (Nixon appears five times, Johnson fourteen and East Meadow, Long Island once) I would only fault the use of Roman numerals for the first eighteen pages with Groth's essay. Who uses these in the digital age!

Feiffer won the 1986 Pulitzer Prize for cartooning and with this book of ten years of Village Voice strips its easy to see why. I've enjoyed reading a few each day and I'm getting life explained...sort of.

***FOR AN INSIDE LOOK click 'customer images' under the cover.
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Format: Hardcover
You cannot understand the 50's or the early 60's without grappling with Jules Feiffer's strips from the Voice. Exactly what were those Beats and later hippies raling about? Learn the nuances. Read Feiffer. Laugh outloud.

"EXPLAINERS" give us the complete Voice strips from 1956-1966..and gives us back Feiffer's own voice and insight. Each strip has a page to itself, and the strips are presented in chronological order. We get a sense of cultural mores and issues as they developed over ten years..and we see how Feiffer developed.

For Feiffer fans and for anyone who wants to pretend to understand the USA at the time, this is a required read.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Nearly fifty years removed I didn't find many of the strips funny (maybe they were never meant to be), but what sustained my interest throughout was the urgency with which the characters in this collection convey their angst, their ideas, their relationships, and their thoughts. There is so much to cover from failed relationships, to failed friendships to presidential statements to questions surrounding the very meaning of life.

Jules Feiffer comes at a reader from every angle conceivable and that gives his ideas their power. And their relevance to today. My personal favorite in this entire collection is in which Vice President Richard Nixon explains and explains what he means about his political philosophy. In many ways, it encapsulates the desire the characters here have for swaying a reader to his/her side and outlining a set of beliefs and experiences.

This collection isn't so much about humor as it is about viewing the world we live in. I encourage others to buy it and treasure it.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As previous reviewers have noted, while these satiric & intelligent strips may be half a century old (or older) now, they're just as sharp-edged & scathing as the day they were first printed. At this point, the period references serve a dual purpose: (1) as an on-the-spot, daily record of the temper of the times, with all of its urgent concerns, fears, and absurdities; and (2) as a reminder of just how much things HAVEN'T changed in America, from personal relationships, to conformity & non-conformity, to politics, to the ideological illusions (and delusions) that drive & destroy so many obsessed, harried, failing human beings. The years covered in this first volume, 1956-1966, are a crucial turning point in America history -- and Feiffer's unblinking gimlet eye sees & skewers everything. There is an occasional glimmer of hope & human decency, but it's rare & all too fragile against the power of hypocrisy, greed, and the unholy urge of empty people to devour the world & everyone in it, both metaphorically & nearly literally. I eagerly await the next volume, which will take readers through the late 1960s, Watergate, and beyond. Meanwhile, for anyone who wants a vivid, darkly humorous look at recent American history, this volume is definitely recommended without any reservations!
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Format: Hardcover
This is a collection of Jules Feiffer's scathing, insightful Village Voice comic strips from its inception (when the strip was actually called "Sick, Sick, Sick" in honor of the generation that was brought up on set gags and mother-in-law jokes and consequently confused and disturbed--and challenged--by comedy that satirized the human psyche, labeling it "sick humor") through its first ten years. You'd think that comics that were topical a half-century ago would be dated to the point of preciousness today, when in fact a frightening number of these strips could be reprinted today and be pertinent to current events. (With a few changes of face, of course: simply replace LBJ with Obama in the 8/5/65 strip, and you're back in business.)

The fact that the succeeding decades have found us humans no less puzzled and neurotic than Feiffer's dramatis personae (Bernard Mergendeiler and the Dancer live!) may be explained--after all, what's the title of the book?--at least in part by the embracing of digital technology. Ironically, that is the one area in which this book is a letdown. The beautiful line quality Mr. Feiffer achieved with ink and a honed-down stick (according to the Foreward) is badly reproduced here. Some strips look like faded photocopies, and some of the text is hard to read. Is this the best we can do to preserve artwork, or did Fantagraphics do the printing on the cheap?

If you're able to overlook the technical flaws (though at these prices you shouldn't have to), "The Explainers" is a rewarding experience. Not everybody can present the unflinching cringe-making truth of our human foibles with enough wit to leave us with the dignity to be able to laugh at them.
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