It feels like comic books have been around forever, but Famous Funnies—the prototypical modern comic book—was published in 1933. While Spandexed superheroes dominate comic shop shelves, graphic novels (long-form, book length volumes) are where you'll find meatier storylines and, frequently, more challenging content.
To kick off Adobe Create's multi-part survey of recently published graphic novels, I spoke to one of the most-celebrated people working in the genre: Jules Feiffer. Feiffer is a Pulitzer-Prize cartoonist, satirist, author, playwright, and screenwriter. He also published his first graphic novel, Tantrum, in 1979.
Ninety-one years old (and going strong!), Feiffer recently released The Ghost Script, the final entry in his Kill My Mother trilogy published by Liveright. It's a murder mystery set in 1953, in which the recently deceased is the main character, gumshoe Sam Hannigan. While it certainly helps to have read the preceding entries in the series—Kill My Mother and its prequel/sequel, Cousin Joseph—The Ghost Script stands on its own as a highly atypical, lavishly illustrated noir thriller that is unlike anything else in the medium.
Feiffer, a living legend in both his output and his inimitable style, eases into the third entry in his trilogy with a looser than usual, almost scribbly style that bears the confidence of a master craftsman creating a labor of love simply because he wants to. That he makes such a tremendous work feel so effortless in its arrival is only part of what makes The Ghost Script so entertaining. Featuring a recurring cast of characters, The Ghost Script is complex, occasionally confusing, robustly scripted (those playwright skills at work) and satisfying to consume.
Create: Your Kill My Mother trilogy is something you’ve been wanting to do for a long time, fulfilling your desire to craft a multi-part mystery that recalls the pulp noir crime thrillers of your childhood. As a seasoned playwright and author, did you plot out the contents of the three books in advance, or did you draw them one by one?
Jules Feiffer: I am an involuntary creator of chaos. So nothing quite happens as I plan it. In the case of Kill My Mother, it started as all text. I got bored after two or three pages of writing, decided to change it into words and pictures; that is, a graphic novel. But since I didn’t, at that time, believe I knew how to draw in the required style, I was hoping that my assistant at the time would do the illustration, while I did the copy. And since I wanted to entangle her in this project, and she was almost six feet tall, I thought if I made it about six-foot-tall women, I could con her into the job. [Editor’s note: The trilogy does feature some tall, blonde characters.] But it turned out that after a few stabs at it, she decided it wasn’t right for her—and I was stuck with a storyline that I kind of liked, but no one to draw it but me. Basically, everything that happened thereafter grew out of that mistake.