In The Press

Feiffer Cast Off by the Voice After 41 Years

By: V. Cullum Rogers
Publication: The Village Void
Date: Jun 1997

The seemingly idyllic 41-year relationship between New York's Village Voice and cartoonist Jules Feiffer came to a swift and unexpected end this spring over money.

"It's not that I've slipped," the artist told The New York Times. "It's that I'm too expensive."

Feiffer, who was being paid $75,000 a year by the Voice, was told in late May by editor Donald H. Forst that the Greenwich Village weekly wanted to stop paying him a salary and start buying his work from Universal Press Syndicate for $200 a week. After Feiffer said he would refuse to let the paper print his cartoons under those conditions, the Voice upped its offer to a staff position with a salary of $20,000 and benefits.

Feiffer rejected that offer as well and is no longer with the paper. The Pulitzer Prize-winning artist had joined the Voice in 1956, when the paper was only one year old and he was 27.

"Forst said, in what turned out to be an understatement, 'I have good news and bad news for you,'" Feiffer said. "The bad news was they wanted to get rid of me. The good news was they still wanted to run me."

Forst, who came to the Voice in October 1996 after serving as editor of the late New York Newsday, said he had no objection to the quality or content of Feiffer's work and that his action was not part of a general cost-cutting at the paper.

The Voice, which gained a reputation in the 1960s and '70s as a home for cutting-edge cartooning, has been running fewer and fewer cartoons in recent years, a trend that predates Forst's arrival. Among the earlier casualties were Mark Alan Stamaty, now with the on-line magazine Slate, and Stan Mack, whose "Real Life Funnies" was dropped in 1995 after a 20-year run. In February of this year, Forst canceled the Voice's last two non-Feiffer cartoons, Lynda Barry's "Ernie Pook's Comeek" and Matt Groening's "Life in Hell."

"Something had to go and they went," Forst told the April issue of the Comics Journal magazine. "I thought they were quite good, but I was putting in a sports section and I just need the space."

In the same article, Mack said the decision to let him go was largely financial. The Voice has faced increasing competition lately from the upstart New York Press, a free publication, and has made major changes in editorial leadership and focus, including going to free distribution within New York City in 1995.

"My personal feeling is that they don't really know what comics are capable of or what their value is," Mack said. He added that the Voice now seems primarily concerned with flashier graphics and "glitz," embracing a more superficial approach to capture younger readers with short attention spans.

Ironically, that same Comics Journal article quotes Forst as saying that Feiffer needn't worry about suffering the same fate as his colleagues, and quotes Feiffer as saying that Forst did a "terrific job" editing New York Newsday. "One has to assume he'll try to do the same at the Voice," Feiffer said of his soon-to-be-ex-editor.

The affair has been a public relations disaster for the Voice, sparking critical coverage and commentary in the New York Times, Newsday and The Daily News. Not surprisingly, the reaction has been strongest among Feiffer's fellow cartoonists. The AAEC drafted a letter of protest at its June convention in Orlando, and AAEC president Milt Priggee told Editor & Publisher that "the Voice without Feiffer is like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich without the jelly.... How prominent will the Voice be without its voice?"

Indeed, the Village Voice may be in the unheard-of position of wanting to hire a cartoonist and not being able to. Tony Millionaire, creator of the self-syndicated "Maakies," told E&P in July that he had turned down a two-year contract from the paper that would have paid four times the money he's currently getting from the New York Press.

"People are really pissed off by the shoddy treatment of cartoonists by the Voice," he said.

"The word here is that the Voice job has been offered to a number of local artists, all of whom have turned it down," New York resident Ted Rall wrote several AAEC colleagues recently. "The general consensus among those of us close to the scene is that the Voice is in a firing mode, which means whoever ends up there won't last long.... More importantly, whoever takes Feiffer's old gig stands to become cartooning's top pariah, in light of what the Voice did to him. That job is about the worst thing you could do to your career right now."