At 86 years young, Jules Feiffer is one of the latest artists to take advantage of the solitude of the Hamptons to produce a noteworthy work.
Released last year to great acclaim, Kill My Mother is a graphic novel in the film noir style, Feiffer’s first foray into the genre. “This book would not exist except that I came out here to live, and I discovered that I could do it,” Feiffer says.
Motivated by creativity and a strong desire to avoid the boring, the Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist and playwright found that living in East Hampton year-round presented a unique set of challenges for a career-minded individual. Commuting back and fourth to New York City to continue his work in the theater was difficult.
“I had to figure out what would work for me naturally and organically in an environment that was not the city. I was always a fan of thriller and detective stories, and I always wanted to work in that form. I took a shot at writing an un-illustrated story, and that became boring. The graphic novel was, at first, a fun little exercise and then it became an exciting work I was determined to pursue for my career and life.”
The result was Kill My Mother, a 150-page adventure comic that follows the lives of three women as they embark on a life-changing mystery. “Rarely, if ever, does [film noir] deal with strong women in conflict with other strong women. That idea was interesting to me,” says Feiffer of the decision to have the work female-focused. However, he emphasizes that when he embarks on an idea, he doesn’t map out exactly how far it will take him. “I see myself as the record keeper bringing the book to life,” he says. “If you want something to work, you have to remove your head and let the characters tell you what to write.”
Feiffer reviewed films from the ’30s and ’40s for inspiration, pausing during intriguing scenes to get a sense of how to draw a noir background. (The movies were so essential to Feiffer’s creative process that he credits “a 65-inch Blu-ray high-definition flat screen and the pause button on my remote” in his acknowledgements in Kill My Mother.)
Feiffer drew all of the scenes, and then created the dialogue with a tissue overlay that was digitally entered into the book. “I begin by plotting an opening of what the story is going to look like,” Feiffer says of writing dialogue. “And once you have an opening line, it’s like parlor games.”
Feiffer’s fans on the East End will have the opportunity to experience the action-packed novel in person, as the Parrish Art Museum has curated an exhibition that showcases more than 140 large-scale ink and watercolor drawings from Kill My Mother. Feiffer illustrated wall notes for the show, in order to make the notes more intriguing. “I almost always find [wall notes] boring, even if they’re interesting,” he says of typical museum notes.
“I’m having as much or more fun [now] as any point in my career,” Feiffer says. Kill My Mother is the second book in a soon-to-be-released three-part series. Feiffer is currently 60 pages into creating Cousin Joseph, a prequel. The sequel to Kill My Mother will follow.
Jules Feiffer: Kill My Mother runs March 15–April 26 at the Parrish Art Museum.