Neil Hammond & Archie Goldman

Created by Jules Feiffer

“I could kill her.”
— Annie on her mother


U
nlike his first foray into detective and crime fiction, Ackroyd (1977), cartoonist Jules Feiffer’s 2014 graphic novel Kill My Mother drew pretty much unanimous praise, and was named one of the year’s best books of the year by both Vanity Fair and Kirkus Reviews.

It’s  an obvious shout out to the pulpy crime films, detective novels and comic strips of his youth. The book is dedicated to — among others — Milton Caniff, Will Eisner, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain, John Huston, Billy Wilder and Howard Hawks), illustrated in Feiffer’s loosey goosey style, all angst and wild emotion and rubbery layouts, and doused with the twitchy, is-it-you-or-is-it-me? neurotic humour Feiffer is known for, but Kill My Mother delivers the real private eye stuff; a dark, noirish romp that stretches from the Big Apple to the jungles of South Pacific; from the 1930s to World War II-era Hollywood.

Emotionally unstable fourteen year old Annie Hannigan hates her life — and her mother, Elsie, in particular. She misses her beloved dad, Big Sam Hannigan, “the only honest cop in the history of Prohibition,” who was recently murdered, and she’s decided her mother simply isn’t grieving enough. Even worse, though, the young widow’s gone to work in a downtown office for an old friend of her father, NEIL HAMMOND who, she says, is “some idiot of a private detective.”

She may be right. The detective is an obnoxious, aging alcoholic; a sexist pig with all the charm of a stale doughnut, prone to screwing up. And it turns out a big part of Elsie’s job is covering his ass.

But the pickled P.I. is just the beginning, as Feiffer works his way down the pulp checklist. There’s a gaggle of strong but flawed women, jitterbuggers, young lovers, tap dancers, a wannabe hit man, a mouthy hack driver, a disgruntled liquor store owner, an easily distracted boxer, a handsome movie star with a secret, a U.S.O. tour and enough overwrought relationships, long-buried family secrets, treachery, lust and violence to bring it all home. There’s even a coming-of-age story and a twist maybe only John Irving could have seen coming, blended right into the mix.

But as I said, Neil’s only the beginning, and ends up a mere bit player in what becomes, for lack of a better word, the Hannigan Family Trilogy, an astounding trilogy that I certainly never saw coming, but that I suspect also slid by without much notice from most of the comic book industry or the fan boys (“Jules Feiffer? Who he?”).

Kill My Mother was followed in 2016 by Cousin Joseph, a prequel that introduces us to Annie’s poor doomed dad, Detective Sam Hannigan, fighting the good fight as head of Bay City’s Red Squad in 1931 in the midst of the Great Depression. Big Sam sees himself as a good guy, but he’s compromised by the jobs he does for the mysterious Cousin Joseph, who enlists Sam to pay off various Hollywood producers.

The trilogy came to a grand conclusion with The Ghost Script (2018), and Hollywood in 1953, with the Red scare in full swing. But the streets of Tinsel Town are haunted, not just by the ghost of Sam Hannigan, but by the past lives and crimes of his widow, Elsie, and his daughter Annie, now a successful writer/director. It’s a whirlwind of Commie screenwriters, blackmailed starlets, over-zealous HUAC agents, powerful men with dirty secrets and, to bring it full circle, private eye ARCHIE GOLDMAN, who may talk tough but couldn’t punch his way out of a box of cornflakes. But Archie’s haunted too: by the memory of his idol, Sam Hannigan.

Taken together, the three books are an audacious, ambitious sweep of three decades of lies and deceit, a noirish history lesson that charts “the tragically cyclical path of American history,” as the publisher puts it, and also pay fine tribute to a genre he’s always had great affection for.

Of course, Jules Feiffer is more than just a cartoonist. He’s also the author of numerous novels, children’s books, plays and screenplays, including Carnal Knowledge, Harry, The Rat with Women and Little Murders, and over a long career has nabbed a Pulitzer Prize, an Academy Award, Obie Awards, and Lifetime Achievement Awards from the National Cartoonist Society and the Writers Guild of America.

But these three books, arriving unexpectedly at this part of Feiffer’s already amazing career and life?

Makes you wonder why he waited until his eighties to try a graphic novel…

UNDER OATH

  • “Nobody writes like Jules! Nobody draws like Jules! Nobody in their right mind would miss reading this monumental milestone of his incredible career!”
    — Stan Lee
  • “Jules Feiffer’s Kill My Mother is a tribute to film noir and detective fiction….But Kill My Mother isn’t mere pastiche. The story is a thoughtful meditation on female identity and whether the not-so-simple art of murder can ever be defended as a moral necessity. It is a story about stories, the myths we have to create in order to keep putting one foot in front of the other… I know what I think: Kill My Mother is terrific.”
    —  Laura Lippman, New York Times Book Review
  • Kill My Mother stretches the long-form graphic novel into formidable textures of compact expression, daring to try things that film noir could only dream of.”
    — Chris Ware
  • “A fantastic read… Very funny and genuinely moving. Feiffer’s layouts owe much to his mentor, Will Eisner, but his spidery art and absurdist prose are all his own.”
    School Library Journal

GRAPHIC NOVELS

Report submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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