The New York Times reviewed Feiffer’s latest book (a collection of his early Village Voice cartoons) yesterday. The good news is, it was on the cover, it was comics, and Feiffer is great (and a big influence on me). The bad news is, the review was written by someone who obviously doesn’t know much about the subject.
So I’ve written them the following Letter to the Editor. Don’t hold your breath seeing it in print:
To the Editors:
You wouldn’t assign the review of a political memoir to a writer who doesn’t know much about politics. You wouldn’t let a food writer tackle a history book. So why didn’t you respect Jules Feiffer’s collection of early cartoons (“The Explainers”) enough to get a person who knows a lot about political cartooning?
David Kamp’s review was favorable, and it ought to have been–“The Explainers” is a great collection of cartoons by a highly influential artist. He clearly did the best he could. But his attempt to fit Feiffer’s work into a broad cultural context was as embarrassing as watching Sarah Palin discuss foreign policy. He was clearly out of his depth–which ill serves your readers.
“You also detect portents of Art Spiegelman, Mark Alan Stamaty and the entire graphic novel genre,” Kamp writes. One can only wince. Hasn’t he been to the graphic novel section of a bookstore? There’s no such thing as a “graphic novel genre”–any more than there is a “newspaper genre.” Graphic novels are a printing format–perfect-bound books with comics in them; they’re novels and novellas and short strips and manga and alternative comix and war correspondency and superheroes and romance and, well, anything.
Anyway, Feiffer’s great influence isn’t on graphic novelists. His example launched scores of wordy, multi-panel cartoonists who work in the alternative weeklies–artists like Tom Tomorrow, Ruben Bolling, Lloyd Dangle and Tim Krieder (none of whose collections ever get reviewed in the Book Review)—as well as text-oriented comic strips from “Doonesbury” to “Bloom County.”
Let me give you a hint. When a reviewer spends two-thirds of the word count paraphrasing and quoting a book’s intro, it’s a hint that he or she doesn’t know what the hell he or she is talking about.
There are a number of fine academics who specialize in the field of political cartooning. For that matter, there are a number of working political cartoonists who–like Feiffer–are superb writers. Why not ask one to review political cartoon books for you?
Contempt for the profession of political cartooning appears to be accelerating at The Times. First is the fact that you’re one of the few big-city daily newspapers that doesn’t employ a staff cartoonist (or two) for your editorial pages. It isn’t lost on cartoonists or their millions of fans that, if every paper followed The Times’ dismal example, there wouldn’t be any Feiffers.
Earlier this year, when The New Yorker’s cover of the Obamas’ “fist bump” sparked controversy, your reporter interviewed late-night comics and comedians. You didn’t bother to interview a single political cartoonist–you know, someone who actually knows about political cartoons. “The Week of Review,” which before 9/11 was a national showcase of some of the nation’s more interesting political cartoons, has been shrunk down, degraded to one-panel “Laugh Lines” presented next to gags by, again, late-night TV comedians.
If there is no place for serious-minded political art in the pages of The Times, how about serious book criticism?
President, Association of American Editorial Cartoonists