Posted by: jeannineatkins | November 6, 2011

Growing Every Which Way But Up: The Children’s Book Art of Jules Feiffer

On Saturday Peter and I enjoyed the opening reception of Growing Every Which Way But Up: The Children’s Book Art of Jules Feiffer at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book ArtJules Feiffer was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for his cartoons, which ran in the Village Voice for 42 years. He also wrote plays and screenplays before illustrating a novel written by Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth. More recently he’s illustrated picture books, beginning with Meanwhile …, an adventure about a kid who wrote comic books. (and a fun way to study ellipses, Nancy Brady, a local librarian, told me).

The show starts off with a few works Jules did as a child and were saved by his mother, who did fashion sketches: a pencil drawing of a lion and a rendition of a superhero comic cover. Some illustrations were from books he both wrote and illustrated, such as I’m Not Bobby and The Daddy Mountain, and several were written by his daughter, Kate Feiffer, with a focus on dogs. I think my favorite picture was from Some Things Are SCARY written by Florence Parry Heide. A sentence about waiting to be called on for being on a team was illustrated with a wide-eyed, hunkering boy eclipsed by long, sharp-angled shadows. I had to get a copy of this book to show my students the eloquent ways an artist can respond to single lines, but I hope they’ll visit the show as well: not only were the boy and menacing shadows in my face, but my neck and torso, too.

Children’s book historian Leonard S. Marcus, author of The Minders of Make Believe, the annotated Phantom Tollbooth, and twenty other books curated the show and posed questions to Jules in the auditorium. (I love the way Carle openings let you look and mingle, then sit back and listen to the artist.) Jules spoke of how he doesn’t want readers to think of what are the words and what are pictures, but combine them, “so that the reader is not really aware of where one stops and the other begins. They blend completely.” He likes pictures that look as if the artist wasn’t thinking about how they were drawn, that don’t show the effort that was put into them. A comparison was made to dancing like Fred Astaire. Jules mentioned how some artists may start with a free hand, then later tighten up. “The true professional gets the looseness and freedom of an amateur into the finished work.”

This apparently was how he came to work with Norton Juster, who just over fifty years ago lived on another floor in a Brooklyn Heights apartment. Norton read Jules parts of what would be published as The Phantom Tollbooth, and he started doing sketches feeling almost as if it were an accident, which he considers the best sort of way to draw: “The brain is the last thing you want to use for creativity.”

Jules Feiffer remembered being a boy who couldn’t trust some adults around him, but trusted books, and has since aspired to write with a voice that seemed that reliable and honest. The show will remain up until January 25. And there’s more! Click on the museum link above for related events, including a conversation between Leonard Marcus and Norton Juster and other events to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of The Phantom Tollbooth, and a conversation between Jules Feiffer and his daughter, Kate Feiffer.



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