Cousin Joseph: A Graph­ic Novel

Jules Feif­fer
  • Review
By – June 29, 2016

Leg­endary car­toon­ist Jules Feif­fer began a graph­ic nov­el tril­o­gy in 2014 with the best­selling Kill My Moth­er. Now the sec­ond install­ment Cousin Joseph, has arrived with a haymaker.

Set in 1931 Hol­ly­wood, good cop Sam Han­ni­gan is a detec­tive on the Red Squad, tasked with smash­ing the union at a local can­nery and keep­ing com­mu­nists at bay. Sam also takes jobs for free from a mys­te­ri­ous Cousin Joseph, who calls him with assign­ments to vis­it to sev­er­al unpa­tri­ot­ic movie pro­duc­ers. Sam gives them a mes­sage from Cousin Joseph, a music box filled with cash, and then, if need­ed, to force­ful­ly sug­gest that their scripts all have a hap­py American/​patriotic end­ing. Sam has no illu­sions about the hard­bit­ten world of Hol­ly­wood in which he lives, and even his low expec­ta­tions in peo­ple are rarely met.

But as all clas­sic hard­boiled detec­tive nov­els go, things are not what they seem. A mur­der, an unhap­py ex-part­ner, strike­break­ers, and a cou­ple of dames” are just a few of com­pli­ca­tions Sam gets caught up in. Even­tu­al­ly, Sam’s best inten­tions will wind up get­ting the bet­ter of him (and punched in the face a few times).

The art­work in Cousin Joseph is filled with con­stant fran­tic motion, col­ored in the clas­sic film noir light­ing style, awash of grays, greens, and fad­ed browns. Feif­fer has con­struct­ed a ter­rif­ic visu­al sto­ry that feels like it comes direct­ly from the pages of Ray­mond Chan­dler or Dashiell Ham­mett. Feiffer’s no-non­sense, razor sharp, cyn­i­cal writ­ing is fan­tas­tic to read, right down to the 1930s lex­i­con (“I had my .38 out. I was ready to plug you, so I could go back to work on her”).This graph­ic nov­el is more for adults than teens, who will appre­ci­ate the peri­od ref­er­ences, and one of the best graph­ic nov­els pub­lished yet — a won­der­ful appe­tiz­er to the final install­ment, Archie Gold­man and the Decline of the West, next year.

Relat­ed Content:

Gary Katz received an MA in Eng­lish from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Nebras­ka-Oma­ha. He is the library admin­is­tra­tor for the Krip­ke Jew­ish Fed­er­a­tion Library in Oma­ha, Nebras­ka, one of the largest Judaica libraries in the Unit­ed States.

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