Feiffer is nearly completely unknown in France (even though he wrote the screenplay of one of Alain Resnais', a great French movie director, movie, I want to go home). He is probably better known in North America, but not that much (I mean outside a little group of comics specialists). What is sure is that very few of his books are currently available. And, after having completed The Explainers, I am deeply that the unavailability of his books is a real shame.
The Explainers collects the weekly strip Feifffer had been publishing in The Village Voice for 40 years (or, at least, it should be; the first volume, the only that has been released yet, covers the first 10 years, from 1956 to 1966). What are all these strips about? They deal with people who talk, who explain who (they think) they are, what they (try to) do, what they feel, what they want.
A lot of blah-blah, one could say. And I must admit it was my first impression. But after reading quite a few strips I progressively realized that it was much, much more than that.
Feiffer understands very well his fellow citizens. He points out their weaknesses, their hypocrisies, their contradictions. It is impressive in a double way: firstly because The Explainers gives an extraordinary and vivid picture of the middle to high class urban Americans of the years 1956 to 1966, with the rise of the Civil Rights movement, the escalation of the Vietnam War, the Cold War, the beginning of the contestation of the consomption society; secondly, because a lot of the issues at stake in these strips remain, after more than 50 years, at the heart of our present day society.
Feiffer draws all this is his unique way: the expression of his characters is incredibly well depicted; bodies and faces make explicit all that is hidden in the speeches of these explainers. In this way, most of the strips are a graphic tour de force.
Nonetheless, I am a bit worried: Fantagraphics have released this first volume of The Explainers quite some time ago, and there is no news about the next issues... Perhaps this first volume was not successful enough to permit the publication of the next three volumes? Please, Fantagraphics, The Explainers is a masterpiece in the depiction of the Western way of life and of thinking in the second half of the 20th century, so do not wait too long before publishing the following volumes of this great masterwork!