We have always thought he was a genius. And a funny man. Jules Feiffer’s The Ghost Script (Liveright Publishing, $26.95) is the culmination of an ambitious graphic novel series, and it’s a graphic wonder at his most daring, imaginative best.
Despite the many honors Jules Feiffer has accumulated over his 89-year lifetime in the fields of comics, journalism, theater, and film, he has longed to hone his skills as a graphic novelist in the mold of his mentor and one-time boss, Will Eisner. With Kill My Mother in 2014 and Cousin Joseph in 2016, Feiffer showed just what could be done with the form, inspired as much by the noir films of his youth, as the social upheaval he witnessed in America in the ’40s and ’50s.
With The Ghost Script he completes the trilogy in triumphant fashion; moving from Bay City to the madcap world of Hollywood, circa 1953. It is a time of deep-seated paranoia, rampant bigotry, and vicious political division, as show business is mercilessly targeted by witch hunts and McCarthyist threats.
No worry if this is the first in the trip you are reading: There are frequent flashbacks, but please do yourself a favor and start at the beginning. Upon this scene stumbles Archie Goldman (previously a teenager in Cousin Joseph), a well-intentioned, if slightly slow, private eye who finds himself increasingly entangled by the tendrils of the Hollywood Blacklist. Plots, counterplots, and general thuggery follow Archie at every turn, and Feiffer casts his story with a wonderful assortment of characters who would not be out of place in a Chandler novel: Lola Burns (a starlet desperate to clear her name and make it in pictures); Lyman Murchison (philanthropist and Red-baiter implicated by a mysterious screenplay called “the Ghost Script”); O.Z. McCay and Faye Bloom (two blacklisted screenwriters seeking revenge); and Miss Know-It-All (a blind gossip columnist with a vicious streak).
Feiffer—who is himself a distant cousin of that ultimate baiter and conflicted soul, the dispicable Roy Cohn—revels in the extremes of the era, as well as the sanctimonious politicians, the two-timing producers, and the heroic actors, writers, and gumshoes swept up by the House Un-American Activities Committee.
Together with Kill My Mother and Cousin Joseph, The Ghost Doctor confirms Feiffer as a master worthy of Eisner’s respect, and provides a graphic masterpiece for our times.