Neil Gaiman
April 16, 2004 AT 04:00 AM EDT

TANTRUM (Fantagraphics, $16.95) People who enjoy good book-length comics for adults often assume they’re a relatively recent phenomenon that sprang fully formed from the brow of Art Spiegelman or Chris Ware or Alan Moore.

I read Jules Feiffer’s remarkable Tantrum nearly 25 years ago. I didn’t get it. But it haunted me, and I knew there was something there to get. Liking it more with each reread over the years, I persuaded Fantagraphics to let me write the introduction when they reprinted it.

Written, drawn, and lettered at white-hot speed and in panels the size of a page, Tantrum, like Joseph Heller’s Something Happened, is about the compromises and fears of middle age. Leo is 42. He has a wife, a job, and two teen kids, and he wants something more. He wants things his way; he wants things to be simple; he wants to want again.

So Leo has a tantrum and, to the consternation of his family, he becomes 2 years old. Now his needs are simple: For a start, he wants a piggyback ride.

Soon we meet his family and the sinister other men who have become 2-year-olds. We watch him save an anorectic’s life. We watch where his quest for a piggyback leads him.

Feiffer, long famed as a master commentator on politics and humanity in short form, gave us, in Tantrum, something sexy, surreal, irresponsible, and utterly plausible. And undeniably adult.

A best-selling author of books like American Gods and Coraline, Neil Gaiman also pens comics, most recently The Sandman: Endless Nights and 1602.

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