Monday, 2 July 2012

430: Jules Feiffer 1: Hostileman 1

Playboy, January 1967
Jules Feiffer

Jules Feiffer first began to publish his distinctive cartoon strips in “The Village Voice” in 1956 and the newspaper would remain one of his primary venues for 30 or more years. At first Feiffer gave the strip to the paper for free as a means of advertising his work. One of the first big paying venues to hire Feiffer for other work was “Playboy” in 1958. Feiffer's work in “Playboy” has largely been forgotten but it’s just as good as the “Village Voice” strips and “Playboy” let him experiment with longer pieces, drama and stories .

Feiffer’s cartoon work stands out because he used the strip format for monologues and two-handers exploring sexual and political relations. Comic strip characters don’t usually exist solely to express contemporary dissatisfaction, resentment, neediness, conflicted emotions, neuroses and ideologies. Yet for all the crippling personal doubt, inadequacy and demonstrations of impotence in all its forms, Feiffer’s characters never seem to have any doubts about their sexuality. Similarly, for all the insults that get thrown about by his arguing partners, “faggot” or “queer” never crop up either. Homosexuality as an individual condition or a social phenomenon doesn’t make much appearance in his “Village Voice” strips.

One of the recurring features by Feiffer in the 1960s is his strip “Hostileman” in “Playboy” which ran for 6 instalments from 1964 to 1969. It features Bernard Mergendeiler, the generic adequate everyman from many of Feiffers’ Village Voice strips. Usually Bernard is pushed around and is incapable of expressing his needs or his resulting anger. In a parody of Captain Marvel who becomes a superhero by uttering the magic word “Shazam”, when the emasculated Bernard says “Hurt”, expressing his repressed desire for revenge, he is transformed into his secret identity of “Hostileman” and is able to gain the upper hand over his opponent, usually a girlfriend or his mother.

This one is inspired by the post-1965 new popularity of “camp” as the new style, which in the context of Feiffer-world is just a new way of making Bernard feel inferior. So you get “Chic Man” aka Tony In and his coterie of clones. The new mandates of fashion come from obvious homosexuals, which goes hand-in-hand with the fact that homosexuality and homosexuals are now slightly more conspicuous socially as the topic of assorted social analyses in magazines in “Life” and “Time” and an increase in sly homophobic digs in columns in newspapers like “The New York Times”. Note that “chic man” and co all have blond hair or platinum blond Caesar cuts, which is an American cliché of the time. There’s a profusion of wrists limp to the point of being perpendicular, and the tight striped suits are de mode.

Somewhat daring is the sequence at the top of page 4 in which Bernard gets cruised in a lavatory, a relatively early instance of acknowledging and joking about this aspect of gay life. Not one of those things people talk about. Near-contemporary sixties satirical types like Lenny Bruce and Barry Humphries treat the matter of cottaging via the aspect of the injustice of police entrapment. Here, there’s no distance, it’s just a preening winsome gay man having a bit of a leer. Note too the kicked back heel in the upper right column as he looks back into the toilet.

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