Thursday, November 08, 2007

The Explainer

Click to enlarge.

©2007 Bhob Stewart and Paul Krassner

In 1965, Paul Krassner and I collaborated on a spoof of Jules Feiffer's weekly comic strip for The Realist, Paul's influential magazine of "freethought criticism and satire." I did a line drawing of Feiffer and made four copies to paste down amid copy written by Paul. My contribution to the writing was a reference to Feiffer's black panels similar to the  Little Lulu pages of Tubby and Little Lulu talking in darkened rooms. Some were fooled by the parody. Writer-designer Michael Dooley (The Education of a Comics Artist) recalled seeing The Realist for the first time:

In many ways Paul, who started a magazine called The Realist in 1958, was a major influence on many people of my generation. It was subtitled "Freethought Criticism and Satire," and it was really a proto-underground newspaper, where you could find everyone from Norman Mailer and Kurt Vonnegut to Woody Allen and Dick Gregory to Ken Kesey and Tim Leary. I discovered it in 1965, when I was living in Brooklyn and had just begun studying design at Pratt Institute. The cover illustration looked like a Jules Feiffer cartoon, and since I was a big fan, I bought it. Turns out it was a parody written by Paul and drawn by EC fan-addict Bhob Stewart that poked fun at Feiffer. Ha! I’d been tricked, but delightedly so.

I was hooked, big time. I immediately mailed away for all available back issues and signed up for classes that Paul was teaching at the Free School in downtown Manhattan. His guest speakers included people like Michael O’Donoghue, who wrote the Phoebe Zeit-Geist comic for Evergreen Review, Abbie Hoffman, Emmett Grogan of the Diggers, just an incredible assortment of countercultural icons. Dick Guindon, an extremely talented but sadly undervalued cartoonist, was also involved in this class.

The signature does not say "Feiffer." It clearly reads "PK-bhob," but I tried to trick the eye and create an illusion that would resemble Feiffer's signature. I made an effort to extend such an illusion throughout by duplicating Feiffer's familiar layout, the use of a repetitive image and an attempt to mimic Feiffer's lettering style, complete with a double line on the emphasized words.

cartoon appeared on the front cover of the October 1965 issue of The Realist (#63) directly beneath A Little Play by Feiffer. This was very much in the previously established prankster nature of The Realist, but the juxaposition did not make Feiffer happy. Especially when he began to get phone calls from friends congratulating him on finally doing a self-satire. 

Feiffer demanded a clarification, so Paul told him to write a letter, which appeared at the top of the letters column in the February 1966 issue (#64) under the heading, "The Explainer," an ironic reference to Feiffer's book The Explainers (1960). That title returns in two months on a new four-volume collection, Explainers: 10 Years of Jules Feiffer's Revolutionary Weekly Strip (Fantagraphics, 2008).

Feiffer's reaction reminded me of something Henry Morgan once said: "I can dish it out, but I can't take it." A few years later, Feiffer actually did do a cartoon about himself in an ad to promote one of his books.


  1. The Realist was my favorite magazine in the 60s. And Paul Krassner was great! He found his perfect niche. He saw irony and satire where others overlooked it. As you pointed out, he was good at spoofs too.

  2. Heya, Bhob. Much thanks for the nod. And the parody: changed my life... for the better!
    ~ mike Dooley

  3. You might enjoy this Mr. Media podcast interview with cartoonist Jules Feiffer, who talks about the new collection of his comic strips from the Village Voice, Explainers, getting his start with Will Eisner on The Spirit, his plays (Little Murders), his movies (Carnal Knowledge, Popeye), the Disney musical adaptation of The Man in the Ceiling, and his forthcoming memoirs.

  4. Anonymous3:42 PM

    Ha! Hilarious. I wish The Realist were still being published; we need it nowadays.