Monday, October 3, 2016

Review: COUSIN JOSEPH: A Graphic Novel

COUSIN JOSEPH: A Graphic Novel
W.W. NORTON & COMPANY/Liveright – @wwnorton and @LiverightPub

[This review was originally posted on Patreon.]

CARTOONIST:  Jules Feiffer
ISBN: 978-1-63149-065-1; hardcover (August 3, 2016)
128pp, Color, $27.95 U.S., $35.95 CAN

Born in 1929, Jules Feiffer is an American syndicated cartoonist, author, playwright, screenwriter, and comics creator.  He may be best known for his long-running comic strip, entitled Feiffer, which ran for 42 years in the venerable New York City weekly, The Village Voice.

Two years ago, Liveright, an imprint of W.W. Norton & Company, published Kill My Mother: A Graphic Novel, a brand-new, Film-Noir inspired graphic novel by Feiffer.  Kill My Mother opens in Bay City, California in the year 1933.  The story revolves around a woman named Elsie Hannigan and her estranged teenage daughter, Annie, who hates her mother.  Elsie is a widower, following the murder of her husband, Sam Hannigan, a policeman.  Elsie's life is hectic and complicated.  Her boss is her late husband's former partner, Neil Hammond, a hard-drinking, has-been private detective who takes shady jobs.  Hammond ends up murdered, the beginning of a mystery spread over a decade.

Feiffer's new comic book is entitled Cousin Joseph: A Graphic Novel, the follow-up to Kill My Mother.  Cousin Joseph is set in Bay City in 1931, two years before Kill My Mother opens, and it reveals why and how Sam Hannigan was killed.  Detective Sam Hannigan is a bare-knuckled, tough, no-nonsense cop who does not hesitate to use his fists to resolve a case or a dispute.  Sam is also a bag-man for a mysterious Hollywood power broker that he knows only as “Cousin Joseph.”  Sam delivers payoffs to other Hollywood types for Cousin Joseph, and if they don't comply with Cousin Joseph's demands, Sam also delivers brutal beatings.

Bay City is also roiling with labor unrest.  Hardy Knox, owner of the cannery, Knox Works, is facing a strike by his employees who are members of a union led by Billy Doyle.  Billy and Sam go way back, but Sam may have to call out his union-busting team, The Red Squad.  Sam knows that he is on a mission, but it may be the wrong mission – one that will make him enemies – some close to home and some quite deadly.

The first time I tried to read Kill My Mother, I stopped after a few pages.  I avoided the galley/review copy that the publisher Liveright has sent to me.  I finally forced myself to read Kill My Mother and ended up loving it.  I had no such problems with Cousin Joseph, for which I also received a galley, as I dove right into book.

Cousin Joseph is a quintessential American graphic novel and comic book, something rare.  Jules Feiffer not only tackles the complexities of the American dream, he also illustrates how Americans see it differently.  He even delves into the notion which some American have that the American dream is not for everyone who lives in America.  Only certain people can have the best of America, these people believe.  Everyone else:  the second class citizens, those with the wrong skin color, those who worship differently; is of an undesirable ethnic origin.  Those people have to know their place, and it ain't anywhere near the top.  For some, America is about dreams of a place at the top of society and joy of finally reaching that pinnacle.  For others, there is struggle and prejudice, and that is the way it should be, almost as if it were part of a natural order in a certain kind of America.

Years ago, I heard an old white lady tell someone that she loved movies like A Few Good Men (1992) because they reflected the best of us (America).  I like Cousin Joseph because it skins the American myth raw.  This comic book is about the story Americans tell themselves and the whole world, but Americans have no plan to make that myth the real thing.


Reviewed by Leroy Douresseaux a.k.a. "I Reads You"

The text is copyright © 2016 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this blog for reprint and syndication rights and fees.


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