Posts Tagged ‘Ernie Bushmiller’

Bushmiller’s Nancy and Iconic Solidarity


Sunday, June 13, 2010

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Nancy and her doppelganger-cousin

One tired jab against Ernie Bushmiller was that he didn’t draw his characters but merely rubber-stamped them on the page. Bushmiller was aware enough of this complaint to draw at least on one occasion a strip where Nancy and Sluggo do in fact emerge from the push and pull of a rubber stamp, a sort of comic strip version of the myths whereby the Gods of old emerged out of nothing. It is true that in the prime years of Nancy, say from 1945 to 1970, Bushmiller’s characters possessed a startling degree of iconic solidarity: any simple drawing of Nancy or Sluggo in profile looks remarkably like another such drawing, right down to the uniform bristle that surround Nancy’s hair. But Bushmiller wasn’t content to have his characters look recognizably similar from panel to panel and strip to strip which is after all what almost all cartoonists do. Bushmiller also had a propensity to proliferate images of Nancy and Sluggo within each panel, as if to show off his virtuoso skills at replication. Examples would include stories where Nancy and Sluggo have almost identical looking doppelgangers (such as the 1947 story with Nancy’s cousin Judy, which manages to be both stupidly funny in the Bushmiller manner and also a little bit creepy).  Also panels where the characters see themselves in mirrors or dreams. Or the general tendency of all of Bushmiller’s secondary characters to look like Platonic-types of characters rather than individual characters.

Comics theorist Thierry Groensteen, in his formidable and daunting book The System of Comics, has made “iconic solidarity” a key feature of the language of comics (within of course a much more complex system). But if “iconic solidarity” is a formalist property common to comics in general, what Bushmiller is up to is heightening this formal property by making it as blunt and visible as possible. In effect, Bushmiller’s gambit is to make us aware as possible that we’re reading a comic by taking a key formal property and making it part of the narrative itself. Hence all those twins and mirror images. This might explain why so many comics aficionados have a special regard for Nancy, which often seems to be the very beating heart, the very distilled essence, of comics itself (for those who still believe, of course, in essences). And wasn’t that part of the point of Mark Newgarden’s “Love’s Savage Fury”, to show how Nancy could retain her iconic solidarity even if distorted in countless different ways?

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It’s Bushmiller Time


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

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It’s a good time to be a Nancy-boy. Fantagraphics is about to launch a comprehensive reprinting of Ernie Bushmiler’s strip, along with Mark Newgarden and Paul Karasik’s How to Read Nancy, which promises to be a revelatory look at the language of comics. Coupled with this is Drawn and Quarterly’s great new reprint of the Nancy comic books, done by John Stanley and Dan Gormley. Although slightly different in spirit from the Nancy comic strip – less formalist and gaggy, with longer stories and more sharply defined characters – the comic book is a fine read.

The Cult of Bushmiller, has, of course, long been at the core of art comics. It’s hard to think of a major cartoonist who hasn’t paid homage to Nancy and Sluggo: aside from the aforementioned Newgarden and Karasik, the cult includes Art Spiegelman, Seth, Gary Panter, Ivan Brunetti (Bushmiller’s influence runs like a thread through the first of his Yale anthologies), Jerry Moriarty, Bill Griffith, among many others. Newgarden once sat on Bushmiller’s wheelchair, a veritable cartooning throne.

Perhaps the original Nancy-boy was the painter and film-critic Manny Farber (1917-2008). Farber penned a smart analysis of comics that appeared in the New Republic issue September 4, 1944. That article (along with another sharp Farber piece on comics, and many other valuable essays) is available in a book Kent Worcester and I co-edited, Arguing Comics. Here’s what Farber had to say about Nancy:

It is probable that Nancy is the best comic today, principally because it combines a very strong, independent imagination with a simplification of best tradition of comic drawing. Nancy is daily concerned with making a pictorial gag either about or on the affairs of a group of bright, unsentimental children who have identical fire-plug shapes, two-foot heights, inch-long names (Sluggo, Winky, Tilly, Nancy) and genial self-powered temperaments. This comic has a remarkable, brave, vital energy that its artist, Ernie Bushmiller, gets partly from seeing landscape in large clear forms and then walking his kids, whom he sees in the same way, with great strength and well being, through them. Bushmiller’s kids have wonderfully integrated personalities combining smart sociability with tough independence. They also have wonderful heads of hair – Sluggo hasn’t any and calls his a “baldy bean,” Nancy’s is a round black cap with prickles, Tilly has an upsweep tied around the middle like a shock of wheat.

(Incidentally, Farber’s whole engagement with comics and cartooning is worthy of study. He was a very early appreciator of Chuck Jones and close friends with Donald Phelps, whose own essays on comics are very Farber-esque.)

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Structure 101


Thursday, August 27, 2009

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I spoke yesterday with my friend and mentor Mark Newgarden. We talked about structure in comics. It was a very enlightening conversation. Basically, Mr. Newgarden reminded me that reduction is the key to making sequencing and transitions work.

So, as I polish up my next rant about what structure actually is and how most comics today lack any real understanding of structure, I thought I’d direct our readers over to Mr. Newgarden’s website. There you will find not only an assortment of laughs and novelties, but also a remarkable essay entitled “How to Read Nancy”. This 1988 essay written by Mr. Newgarden and Mr. Paul Karasik is a priceless jewel of information. I’d venture to say that it is a self contained comics graduate class. Comics Comics readers are encouraged to start here before any further discussion of structure can take place on this blog.

Please download the “How to Read Nancy” pdf here.

Thank you.

Oh, and don’t forget that “How to Read Nancy” is being expanded into a book that will be published by Fantagraphics in the spring of next year. Details here.

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Attention Nancy Lovers


Friday, December 5, 2008

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A message from Mark Newgarden & Paul Karasik:

Perhaps you can help us!

Paul Karasik & I are currently expanding our 1988 essay HOW TO READ NANCY into a book-length treatment. Our essay originally appeared in Brian Walker’s THE BEST OF ERNIE BUSHMILLER’S NANCY and is currently being used in comics lit curriculums all over the country.

As you may (or may not) recall one particular NANCY strip [below] is deconstructed in great detail. We are trying to determine exactly when this strip was originally printed.

Our source was the 1961 NANCY Pocket Book which obliterated the original publication date & © info on these strips. From studying a fair amount of period syndicate proofsheets it seems most likely that this strip appeared sometime between 1958-1960 as many of the other strips reproduced in this book did.

Unfortunately many of the likely sources (UFS, Walker, Kitchen, Ohio State) do not have complete runs of the strip for this period and neither do we.

We are circulating this request among NANCY lovers and comic strip collectors confident that someone has the info we seek.

Additionally we are hopeful that someone has high quality reproduction material for this strip (either a proof or the original) and would be willing to contribute a high rez scan.

Even if you don’t have any of this (but perhaps could point us in the direction of someone who does) your name will surely be enshrined in the golden roll of the Secret Bushmiller Society for all eternity!


Mark Newgarden & Paul Karasik

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Ernie’s Last Tape


Wednesday, August 6, 2008

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For a follow-up to Dan’s post on the recent media confusion over the supposed correspondence between Ernie Bushmiller and Samuel Beckett, go here. Ben Towle has just posted the Hermenaut article that started it all.

[Via Tom Spurgeon, and Fritzi Ritz cover stolen from Pappy.]

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Bushwacked by Beckett


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

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Astute readers of Tom Spurgeon’s Comics Reporter will be “wowed” to find out that RC Harvey has “discovered” that Samuel Beckett and Ernie Bushmiller once corresponded, according to Editor & Publisher. Harvey writes:

“Another of Nancy’s most famous fans was Samuel Beckett, author of the supremely existential and endlessly impenetrable play “Waiting for Godot.” Beckett initiated a correspondence with Bushmiller that lasted for several months in late 1952 and early 1953. The exchange between the two, published in 1999 in Hermenaut No. 15 with an introduction by A.S. Hamrah, is a majestic example of two people talking past each other, neither understanding quite what the other is about but each assuming he understands perfectly. The existentialist Beckett assumed from what he saw in Nancy that he could write gags for Bushmiller, that his existential comedy would be in perfect sinc with the strip. But Bushmiller simply couldn’t comprehend what Beckett’s gags were; he saw no humor in them.”

Hey, wow Harv! Maybe comics really aren’t just for kids! That 1999 Hermenaut article was a pretty well known (and beautifully executed) joke. The drawings are by R. Sikoryak. Good to see E&P putting its reporting skills to use. This reminds me of the time Print magazine published their exciting discovery of “Telegraphic Art”, as seen in The Ganzfeld 1. I was working like 3 desks away at the time, and the crack fact checking team there never bothered to ask if it was real. Tom rightly wonders if it’s “too good to be true”. It certainly is.

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