CARTOONIST JULES Feiffer, much of whose most pungent work has dealt with politics, may have given up drawing his regular strip, but it doesn't take much to get him going about the state of the country, especially during an election season.
"My purpose has always been to overthrow the government," he says, sipping tea at the D.C. Jewish Community Center, where "Julz Rulz: Inside the Mind of Jules Feiffer," a retrospective of his drawings, political and otherwise, is on view. But is he joking?
"How serious can I be when George W. Bush is president, and his popularity is not down to 10 percent? If that was my purpose, then I'm obviously a complete failure." He may not be expressing his sharp political wit with pen and ink these days, but you don't have to prod too hard to discover that his sensibilities are still as left-leaning and as, um, sore as ever.
"Reagan I at least understood," says Feiffer, who, alluding to actors in the film "It's a Wonderful Life," describes the late president as having "Jimmy Stewart's manner with Lionel Barrymore's lines." As for Dubya, Feiffer jokes that "we've elected Alfred E. Newman as president -- or rather the Supreme Court has." He goes on to compare the president to a "cowboy" and a "high school jock."
It's not that he's still mad about the 2000 election or the administration's now hollow claims of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction or the Patriot Act's trampling of civil liberties. "I'm too old to be this angry," protests the 75-year-old artist. "I'm just [ticked] off," making a somewhat esoteric distinction.
So why not go back to drawing about it?
"It wouldn't do any good," he says, calling himself more cynical than he used to be. "I don't know that I believe we're living in an aberration these days, as I did during the time of McCarthyism, which ultimately went away. I no longer believe that the truth matters."
For that reason, the illustrator of "The Phantom Tollbooth" and other kids' books says he's no longer drawing for the grown-ups, but exclusively for an audience of his grandchildren and their generation, for whom he still harbors some hope.
"It is the children who are the seeds of the future. I think I'll talk to them from now on."
For the time being, however, you can still get a taste of his caustic humor, which still burns, if only on yellowed paper, at the DCJCC's Ann Loeb Bronfman Gallery.
"Julz Rulz: Inside the Mind of Jules Feiffer" runs through Jan. 30 at the D.C. Jewish Community Center's Ann Loeb Bronfman Gallery, 1529 16th St. NW (Metro: Dupont Circle). 202-777-3208. www.dcjcc.org/arts/bronfmangallery. Open Sunday-Thursday 10 to 10; Fridays from 10 to 4. Free.
On Oct. 31 at 5:15, Feiffer will talk with cartoon artist Will Eisner, editorial cartoonist Tom Toles of The Washington Post and journalist Daniel Schorr after the matinee performance at 3 of "A Bad Friend," a 2003 play by Feiffer in its area premiere at the DCJCC's Theater J through Nov. 28. The discussion is free for Theater J subscribers and ticket holders. Tickets for the play cost $20 to $36. Call 800-494-8497 for tickets.
-- Michael O'Sullivan