Writer & Artist: Ernie Bushmiller
Release Date: December 20, 2015
With the myriad volumes written on Ernie Bushmiller’s Nancy, including Paul Karasik and Mark Newgarden’s recent 240-page expanded essay How to Read Nancy: The Elements of Comics in Three Easy Panels, it’s hard to find anything new to say. There’s very little to the action of the strip, which exists purely as a gag vehicle. The 8-year-old Nancy and her best friend Sluggo do indeed love each other, but most of their adventures consist of excuses for jokes that have little bearing on following strips.
Newgarden and Karasik refer to the strip’s “sublime dumbness,” which is probably as good a two-word description of the strip’s appeal as you’ll find. What really defines Bushmiller’s genius, though, is whatever comic you read after making your way through the three years of daily strips presented in Nancy Loves Sluggo: Complete Dailies 1949-1951. It doesn’t matter what you choose; any subsequent comic will feel overstuffed with visual and verbal content.
In another analysis hosted by Scott McCloud, Art Spiegelman unpacks Bushmiller’s aesthetic by discussing the cartoonist’s method of including three rocks in the background of many a scene. McCloud transcribed the reasoning: ”. . . two rocks wouldn’t be ‘some rocks.’ Two rocks would be a pair of rocks. And four rocks was unacceptable because four rocks would indicate ‘some rocks’ but it would be one rock more than was necessary.” This observation doesn’t imply that every Nancy iteration hits home with hilarity, but it does mean that reading strip after strip resembles eating cotton candy. Nancy provides brief and simple pleasure, then essentially evaporates. There’s no bigger meaning or hidden agenda, which may provide the impetus for trying to dissect it past any logical stopping point.
Fantagraphics’ presentation of the strip is, for the most part, nicely done, with a good introduction by Ivan Brunetti (himself a practitioner of stripped-down sequential art). The cover provides a mystery at first glance before one realizes it combines the faces of Nancy and Sluggo. Occasional pages that break a horizontal strip into a square of two and two can be jarring, violating Bushmiller’s carefully composed line of action, but the majority of the book presents three strips per page in rich, beautiful black and white on a silky sheet of paper, printing an idealist, simple touchstone with the love and care it deserves.