Interesting Ideas


Confessions of a Nancy addict

Nancy has been a fixture in my life for as long as I can remember, quickly displacing the wordless Louie as my favorite comic. I knew early on that its humor and art were different from the other strips. There was somehow less to it, and it seemed to reflect ambitions far more constricted, than even, say, the Family Circus. But that made it special. Most comic strips are simply lame while trying desperately to be otherwise. Nancy caved the form in on its absolute essence.

Not that I ever found it funny per se. Rather, the payoff is the brief "I get it" that for a kid is more gratifying than a mere chuckle.

My real breakthrough came in college. As soon as I arrived, I noticed the proliferation of Doonesbury on doors throughout the dorms and academic offices. Doonesbury apparently was the voice and humor of a generation, offering easy access to profundity.

However you judge it, rip a Doonesbury out of the context of the daily paper and put it on a door or a fridge and you make it trite. Taping it to the door is just another way of saying, "Now isn't this clever?" What can stand up to such treatment? Take a joke from any first-rate comedian, write it on a sheet of paper and then write next to it, "Now isn't this clever?"

Nancy, with not a trace of Statement to be found in it, seemed the perfect antidote. I started pasting it on my dorm-room door, eventually covering it floor to ceiling with clippings. And each panel was more authentically profound in its muteness than any Doonesbury.

From then on I was hooked, clipping it day by day and scratching "Ernie Bushmiller" into desks across the campus. As the years went on, my appreciation was occasionally validated by contact with other fans, but those were few. Then Tom Smucker inserted a wonderful little analysis into a 1982 Village Voice story on Dallas, winning my undying gratitude.

Later, Denis Kitchen started issuing his anthologies, complete with moving tributes by prominent individuals to the most disrespected of modern comics. In one volume, cartoonist Jerry Moriarty -- who calls himself a reluctant fan -- recounts interesting conversations with Bushmiller, who told him, he says, that while he once took some art classes at night, "he never learned to draw so he gave up the classes."

"I know he wouldn't have believed me if I had told him he was an original, creative artist."

(Both familiar statements to aficionados of outsider art.)

On discovering that Andy Warhol had a Nancy fixation as early as 1961, I felt vindicated amid my files of Nancy clippings, original comic books, anthologies and revolving Sluggo music box. I do feel sheepish getting all pretentious about Nancy here, but I think she can take it.

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Copyright William Swislow 1995