Wednesday, March 28, 2012


Where have you gone Ernie Bushmiller, a nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

All kidding aside, you sure as shootin' can bet Nancy is happy, and so am I that the crucial years of this strip (or at least the dailies) are FINALLY being reprinted, and in chronological order to boot, by the fine folk at Fantagraphics. Thankfully my evening hours and Sundays no longer have to be filled with the constant re-perusing of old NANCY collections, for this book's the first of hopefully many volumes in which one of my all time favorite comic strips is being given the royal carpet treatment after years of not only utter neglect but downright abuse at the hands of a lotta snobs who think they're so hot for liking CALVIN AND HOBBES! And not only that, but NANCY continues to deliver on the fun puns 'n great art for us real-life comic strip fans while all of that extraneous junk that's been hitting the comic pages o'er the past few decades does little but mirror the rest of the contents of yer modern day newspaper industry that deserves to die a quick and inglorious death!

Yeah, I know that I've received more'n my fair share of flack for admitting to loving this totally "uncool" (yawn!) strip, but as I've said many a time I am more'n willing to be ridiculed for something I deeply believe in than something I most certainly don't. And if there's anything that I will stand up for here in these beyond-jaded and loathing teens it is NANCY. I'm not the only one fact I still come across many an older folk who will admit that they remember reading NANCY with the same pride that they had working on the WPA, and as for the younger generation (in this case people who are in now in their mid-to-late-forties!) I can still vividly recall how my two cousins would always hit the funny pages of THE YOUNGSTOWN VINDICATOR to read NANCY before they'd look at anything else! They also freely admitted that they really enjoyed it with its simple art and surprising gags that, as Bill Griffith once said, caught you off guard like no other comic strip could either before or since the Golden Age of NANCY got wooshed away by killer time.

But most of all these kiddoes went for the strip mainly because NANCY reflected that growing up inna sixties/seventies/even eighties nice 'n relaxing feeling that brings back alla them cool memories that any true blue would remember with joy! For them, NANCY gave 'em the same sense of suburban security and relevance to their everyday living the same way that OZZIE AND HARRIET, LEAVE IT TO BEAVER and GILLIGAN'S ISLAND reruns made 'em feel all nice and gooey inside. Reading NANCY, like watching the aforementioned television programs and eating Hostess Twinkies, was the funny paper equivalent of going over to their aunt 'n uncle's for a backyard barbeque or hitting the toy department to buy a cheap Matchbox car to play with. At least that's something that hits the ranch house home in a real meaningful way that I'm sure still resonates with the two of 'em!

I should know, because NANCY has the same effect on me, being part of some of my earliest memories back when I'd sit on my dad's lap on the living room couch 'n he'd read me the funnies even if I could barely understand what was goin' on in 'em. But for a toddler just discovering things like comic pages NANCY was something that I sure could relate to even with my underdeveloped brain running on half-strength.  And throughout my childhood the daily reading of NANCY was just as much a part of my routine as watching television or fighting with my sister...speaking of my sister I can still clearly recall the day when I heard her laughing uproariously over a strip where the friz-haired one was bawling her brains out because her mashed potato dam holding the gravy burst! Since we were having meat loaf with mashed potatoes and gravy that very night Jillery and I made it a point to wreck our own mashed potato dams in hilarious homage to that particular day's strip. Who sez comic strips aren't an interactional and stimularing influence on youth?

But as for these you'd've surmised by now they're great. Beginning this series with the 1943 strips was an intelligent choice considering how the mid-forties were the years when NANCY more/less became the kinda comic that fans recognize it as, with the artwork becoming simpler (and to the point) and the gags evolving into that one-beat joke that really was brainier'n most wags gave Ernie Bushmiller credit for. These more or less "transitional" comics are not only fun, but give you a before-your-eyes example of comic strip evolution as you can see with some of the elements we've grown up reading just starting to bud, reaching fruition within a few years when NANCY eventually settled into the groove that most of us post-WW II/pre-hippie kids grew up with. It's also interesting glomming various characters who either were one-shots (like Sluggo's lookalike yet full grown sailor uncle Spike) or soon-to-be-axed familiars like the Sputters, the couple next door who used to let Nancy stay with 'em while Aunt Fritzi was away. Not only that but interesting early takes on longtime NANCY standbys such as Marmaduke for Rollo the Rich Kid and Janie for Irma, Nancy's rival can be espied with ease. Yeah, I know nothing as esoteric as this will make it to trivia night at your favorite local bar, but just settling back with this book is not only a fun way to pass the time, but comic history mutating right before your very orbs!

This is the very same strip mentioned in the accompanying
paragraph that really excited me at age ten to the point where
I wanted to lop the thing outta the WW II-vintage paper
it appeared in. Sorry that the repro is slightly cockeyed
and the left end curved a bit, but you wouldn't want me
to break the binding on my book now,  would you?
And this one does bring back memories for me, not only of my once-ritualistic daily living room floor plop where I would sprawl out like a bear skin rug to read the funnies, but of my prowling through the newspapers that an uncle kept when he came back from World War II. Papers which I read not for their historical information but for the comic strips which would be the only thing in 'em to interest a ten-year-old blob like myself. Well, anyway among the stash of papers that my uncle saved over the years there was this April 30, 1945 edition of one of the now defunct Pittsburgh dailies and lo and behold, they carried NANCY which pleased me to no end! Even at age ten I was a studious stickler for eyeballing various comic artwork evolutionary developments and such, so osmosing this particular entry which looked pretty much the same as the then-current strip yet just unique enough in execution and artwork was such an eye-opening epiphany that I wanted to clip the comic out and keep it with the load of soon-to-be-thrown-out NANCYs cluttering up the basement in the hopes of collecting them in a gigantic scrapbook. Unfortunately I was not allowed to do such a thing, though as luck would have it I eventually inherited all of those papers anyway and can sneak about'n take a look at 'em whenever I feel like it!

But hey, the thought that this book even exists does wonders for me. Can't really complain other'n about some of the anti-Japanese sentiment strips that were par for the course (frankly I've become very pro-Japan after reading more and more about the subject to the point where if I were around back then I certainly woulda taken a traitorous turn if only to stick it to the progressive types whose racist attitudes made the conservatives look mild in comparison!).  But that's just me...otherwise I can't say that there was anything particular to bellow against here other'n the lack of Sunday pages and maybe something a li'l more'n Dan Clowes' opening remarks which were good, but after years of similar praise what more really can be said?

I can only hope this series continues on until the rather bitter end. In fact, I even pray they reprint those primitive enough early-eighties strips that showed Bushmiller in the final throes of an ever-decaying approach which one commentator stated showed a real loss of viscosity on the part of a man whose style seemed to be ridiculed even when he was up and goin'. After all, there are plenty of strips both seen and unseen I would love to enjoy either as a memory-stimulator or fresh in my mind no matter how much they did look like the efforts of an elderly man who was suffering from Parkinson's. There are also plenty of obscurities I'd like to investigate like the series of December 1962 comics featuring a strange Nancy lookalike with a bulbous nose that seem to be about as obscure as the various Charlotte Braun appearances in the mid-fifties PEANUTS which also had been forgotten for years. Whatever, a project like this is but one that really brings out that never-suppressed slobbo suburban kid feeling in me, and with more books to look forward to all I can say is...what the hell do we need Gary Trudeau for anyway?

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