three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
47-July-Aug-2010
user_rating: 
0

A-Backing into Forward.epsBest known for his editorial cartoons in the Village Voice, Jules Feiffer also wrote the play Little Murders and provided the illustrations for the children's classic The Phantom Tollbooth.

The Topic: At one point in his memoir, Jules Feiffer writes that the only person he trusted was his therapist. Given the way he describes his childhood, it's not hard to see why: terrified by his parents, and a horrible student himself, he dealt with comically awful incidents such as his aunt breaking the watch he received for his Bar Mitzvah and then blaming it on him. But lucky for us, Feiffer somehow survived, going on to become an apprentice to famed cartoonist Will Eisner and a Pulitzer Prize–winning comic strip artist at the Village Voice for more than four decades. In that capacity, he met, and now writes about, many of the characters from New York of the 1960s and 1970s, including Lenny Bruce, George Plimpton, and Woody Allen.
Nan A. Talese/Doubleday. 464 pages. $30. ISBN: 9780385531580

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"[T]he voice in Backing Into Forward is not spry, not pretty energetic for an old person, but youthful, full of insouciance, vanity and playfulness. While other accomplished men bronze their success or dip it in amber, Feiffer treats his own as one big, wonderful caper." David Carr

Providence Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"Writing with honesty and humor, Feiffer opens his memoir with ‘Boy Cartoonist,' in which he describes his growing years as a high-wire act: youth, without a net. ... The great stories of Feiffer's successes, the major artistic relationships and collaborations, make entertaining and memorable reading." Jeanne Nicholson

Los Angeles Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Delightful as this frank memoir is, one cannot help but wonder how much sharper Backing Into Forward might have been as an autobiography-in-comic-strips. The book brilliantly captures adolescent confusion and self-loathing, the ambitions and working life of an unconventional artist in an era uncertain about its arts, and the furies of a political radical who watched the United States descend into gloom, but--as a review in this paper remarked on the publication of Roth's Portnoy's Complaint--when it comes to these subjects, ‘all of it is better told in a Feiffer cartoon.'" Josh Lambert

New York Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"When he's loudly complaining about the bad reviews some of his plays received (while passing lightly over the raves), Mr. Feiffer can sound self-pitying and petulant, like the hero of his story Tantrum: a husband and father who reverts to being a 2-year old. But when Backing Into Forward sticks to the story of his life and the evolution of his craft, it succeeds in sounding like the best of Mr. Feiffer's cartoons: funny, acerbic, subversive, fiercely attuned to the absurdities in his own life and in the country at large." Michiko Kakutani

Onion A. V. Club 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Feiffer is an astute observer of his own working processes. ... That freewheeling sensibility guides the book as well: Like its title, it moves in roundabout fashion, but gets where it's going." Michaelangelo Matos

Minneapolis Star Tribune 3 of 5 Stars
"Although Feiffer acknowledges that ‘nothing in print or on stage is more repellent than self-pity,' he often seems mean-spirited and, well, self-pitying. ... It's a shame. Because in the small amount of space he allocates to ‘Little Murders' and ‘Carnal Knowledge,' Backing Into Forward gets really interesting." Glenn C. Altschuler

Critical Summary

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.