One of the first comic strips introduced in my school’s comics course was Nancy by Ernie Bushmiller. My initial reaction? ‘This confused, prickly-headed, hyphen-nosed child has no place in my heart!’ I’m not a Sunday funnies kind of gal, so I didn’t understand what Nancy was trying to do. Is it supposed to be funny? Is it making some kind of point that I’m totally missing?
During the course, my professor introduced us to How to Read Nancy by Paul Karasik and Mark Newgarden. I guess other people were as baffled as I was on how to ‘get’ Ernie Bushmiller’s strip – so much so, that Karasik and Newgarden broke down and analyzed every single technical element of Nancy. For something as simple as a newspaper comic strip, Nancy really gets artists riled up. Here’s an excerpt from the introduction:
To say that Nancy is a simple gag strip about a simple-minded snot-nosed kid is to miss the point completely. Nancy only appears to be simple at a casual glance. Like architect Mies Van Der Rohe, the simplicity is a carefully designed function of a complex amalgam of formal rules laid out by the designer. To look at Bushmiller as an architect is entirely appropriate, for Nancy is, in a sense, a blue print for a comic strip. Walls, floors, rocks, trees, Ice-cream cones, motion lines, midgets and principals are carefully positioned with no need for further embellishment. And they are laid out with one purpose in mind – to get the gag across. Minimalist? Formalist? Structuralist? Cartoonist!
I actually can’t explain when or how I started liking Nancy. I either spontaneously acquired a better sense of humor, or I’m just weirder than I was before. There’s something amazing about the simplicity of the humor and the bold graphic design of the comics. Ernie Bushmiller certainly deserves his title as a comic legend.
Nancy’s a tricky gal. She’ll make you a lover or a hater. (I’ve gotten several eye rolls accompanied by “Really??” for professing my love of Nancy.) Even so, her iconic looks can’t be ignored. Here are a few Nancy-worthy items that might finally convince her to ditch that black sweater vest and plain red skirt. After all, she’s been wearing them for 78 years.
Nancy’s signature red bow gets a sleek, satin makeover. $10, Graveside Looks (Etsy)
An amazing skirt that not only captures the essence of Nancy, but of many other iconic cartoon characters. $47.99, Modcloth
Makeup is for grown-ups, but Nancy might get a kick out of this yummy-smelling lip balm. Lip Smacker in Strawberry, about $2, ULTA
A little bit of curl-lovin’ for days when Nancy doesn’t want to be so prickly. Aveda Be Curly Curl Enhancer, $19