Q and A: Jules Feiffer

The cartoonist, illustrator, author and playwright reflects on happy memories and the positive side of failure

Jules Feiffer recently spoke at the Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture about photographer Bob Landry's portrait of dancer Fred Astaire. (Suzanne Dechillo / the New York Times / Redux)
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In your memoir you open with a line: “Success is nothing to sneeze at, but failure, too, offers great possibilities.” The idea of failure is another theme in your work. What is the value of failed experiences?
Particularly as an American, when we are taught—as other cultures do not teach—that failure is a bad thing. It’s looked down upon. Don’t be a loser. We have all sorts of negative notions about failure and so the hidden message is don’t risk anything. Don’t take chances. Be a good boy. Stay within the limits. Stay within the proper boundaries and that way you won’t get into trouble and you won’t fail. But of course in the arts and virtually anything else that leads a satisfactory life, failure is implicit. You try things, you fall on your face, you figure out what went wrong, you go back and try them. And what I was hoping to do for the readers of my book—particularly young readers—was tell them that a lot of the good advice they got should simply be ignored.

You’ve done comic strips, children’s books, plays and movies. What is your next creative project?
Other than having a few children’s books to illustrate and one that I’ve just written and will also illustrate, I’m working on a book about humor during the Great Depression and how humor got us through those times in a way that is absent in these times.

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