A funny thing happened on the way to comic-strip immortality.
For many years, Ernie Bushmiller’s Nancy, with its odd-looking, squat heroine, nearly abstract art, and often super-corny gags, was perceived as the stodgiest, squarest comic strip in the world. Popular with newspaper read- ers, true — but definitely not a strip embraced by comic-strip connoisseurs, like Krazy Kat, Dick Tracy or Terry and the Pirates.
But then those connoisseurs took a closer look, and began to realize that Bushmiller’s art approached its own kind of cartoon perfection, and those corny gags often achieved a striking zen quality. In its own way, it turned out Nancy was in fact the most iconic comic strip of all. (The American Heritage Dictionary actually uses a Nancy strip to illustrate its entry on “comic strip.”)
Charter members of the Nancy revival include Art Spiegelman, who published Mark Newgarden’s famous “Love’s Savage Fury” (featuring Nancy and Bazooka Joe) in an early issue of RAW; Fletcher Hanks anthologist Paul Karasik; Zippy the Pinhead creator Bill Griffith; underground publisher Denis Kitchen, who released several volumes of Nancy collections in the 1980s; Understanding Comics’ Scott McCloud, who created the “Five-Card Nancy” card game; Joe Brainard, who produced an entire Nancy Book of paintings in 2008; and Andy Warhol, who produced a painting based on Nancy.
Beginning in the Winter of 2011, fans will be dancing with joy as Fantagraphics unveils an ongoing Nancy reprint project. Each volume will contain a whopping full three years of daily Nancy strips (a Sunday Nancy project looms in the future), collected in a fat, square (what else, for the “squarest” strip in the world?) package designed by Jacob (Popeye, Beasts!, Willie and Joe) Covey.
This first volume will collect every daily strip from 1943 to 1945. (Fantagraphics will eventually release Nancy’s first five years, 1938-1942, but given the scarcity of archival material for these years we are giving ourselves some extra time to collate it all.)
This first Nancy volume will feature an introduction by another stellar Bushmiller fan, Daniel Clowes (from whose collection most of the strips in this volume were scanned), a biography of the artist, and much more.
• Review: "...[T]hese comics are among the best in their genre without a doubt. ...[This] period was certainly the period of Jack Kirby’s greatest commercial success, and also the period of work which posterity has most neglected. For that this book [Young Romance ] is to be cheered, though there is much else to be happy about in it. There is the excellence of Gagné’s restoration work. It’s of a kind of cleanness which in the past, in archival projects by others, has often resulted in garishness. ...[I]t appears that Fantagraphics, perhaps by accident more than planning, is the only publisher to give us any coverage of the long neglected and just about forgotten 1950s genre of romance comics." – Eddie Campbell, The Comics Journal
• Plug: "Activist/musician/writer Pat Thomas has been busy the past five years compiling music, speeches and photos from the height of the Black Power movement, spending much of that time in Oakland, California, the birthplace of the Black Panther Party. The result is Thomas’ forthcoming book, Listen, Whitey! The Sights and Sounds of Black Power 1965-1975(out March 5 through Fantagraphics Books), which entrenches us in one of the most politically and culturally explosive times in America..." – Mark Lore, The Days of Lore
• Interview:Casey Burchby presents a brief excerpt of an interview with Daniel Clowes conducted last Fall in which Clowes discusses how his collection of Ernie Bushmiller Nancy comic strips became the backbone of Nancy Is Happy: Complete Dailies 1943-1945: "I found it baffling that I had the best collection of Nancy strips. I bought a bunch of them off eBay in like 1998. It didn’t take any special effort. I just found some dealer that had a whole bunch of them, and I bought all of them I could get my hands on. And when it came time to do the book, they were looking all over and they couldn’t find them anywhere. And I had almost all of them."
On the occasion of our impending release of Nancy Is Happy: Complete Dailies 1943-1945 by Ernie Bushmiller, our pal and colleague Ben Schwartz has penned an excellent essay on the strip for the current issue of Bookforum. Do get a copy if you can; click the scan above for a larger, legible version and we've taken the liberty of excerpting the parts where he heaps praise on the book below:
"In this, the reading public has a rare opportunity. No, make that a rare challenge — to read Bushmiller without the benefit of recontextualization of any sort. The fact that you laugh at a Nancy gag — and you will — is all on you. There will be no downtown doyenne to comfort you in the know ledge that the gag about, oh, bathroom plungers, or cotton candy, or squirt guns, is an ironically loaded statement on anything at all. No, you'll be stuck in a room alone with Ernie Bushmiller, who will force you to confront your inner stoopid like no other American artist. Indeed, it is genuine, nonironic praise to say of Bushmiller that if you don't get a Nancy joke, you are a moron.... Now, Nancy Is Happy arrives after three decades of pro-Nancy revival and mainstream humor often as archly silly and unreal as Bushmiller's — Letterman, Conan, Pee-wee Herman, The Mighty Boosh, or the grown-up fan base of Yo Gabba Gabba! It bodes well for Bushmiller's legacy that there's finally an audience educated enough to appreciate his brand of dumb."
• Review: "While other colleagues have seen their short stories and graphic novels draw serious attention in literary circles, Griffith remains the 'Are we having fun yet?' guy to many. Perhaps the long-overdue collection Lost and Found: Comics 1969-2003 will change that. Leaning heavily on the stories Griffith drew in the early ’70s for undergrounds like Young Lust, Short Order Comix, and the revolutionary Arcade, Lost and Found shows off more facets of Griffith, putting his obsessions with Hollywood, suburbia, and a certain type of corporate cockiness into a larger context." – Noel Murray, The A.V. Club
• Review: "Diane Noomin has seen her work scattered around anthologies like Wimmen’s Comix and Twisted Sisters since she made her comics debut in 1972, but has never received the dedicated study afforded by her new book Glitz-2-Go: Collected Stories, which brings together nearly 200 pages of Noomin’s work.... From the cluttered panels to the bracing honesty, these strips are very much of a piece with the original underground comics movement, and may not be immediately accessible to people unused to that tradition. But for those who fondly remember the glory years of Dori Seda, Aline Kominsky-Crumb, Joyce Farmer, and Roberta Gregory, it’s a pleasure to see Noomin get her own showcase." – Noel Murray, The A.V. Club
• Review: "...Nancy possesses in spades the quality common to all great art — a singularity of vision.... The clarity and unity of purpose made it quite impossible to miss a single punch line. Nancy is simplistic, yes — but it is simplistic by design, a strip without clutter, diagrammatic in its relentless formalism. Set against today’s comic-strip landscape, where Doonesbury has the ambition and scope of the Great American Satirical Novel and even gentle family comedies like Zits and Foxtrot boast character casts expansive enough to baffle a new reader, the dumbness of Nancy starts to look like some kind of genius. The roly-poly, Brillo-mopped mischief-maker and her lowlife pal Sluggo stand eternal, as iconic as the puppets in a Punch and Judy show or the Columbines and Harlequins of commedia dell’arte." – Jack Feerick, Kirkus Reviews
• Review: "At 7.6% ABV, Nibiru is a beer that doesn’t pull any punches, but its potency is disguised by the refreshing herbal and citrus flavours on offer. Like its European cousin, Duvel, it's light enough to be easy-drinking, but the intensity of alcohol mean that it’s a beer that demands to be savoured." – Gavin Lees, Graphic Eye
• Interview (Audio): On the new episode of the Mostly Harmless Podcast, host "Dammit Damian" chats with Noah Van Sciver about "how Noah got into making comics, his family and making comics for a living," among other topics
• Scene (Video):Graphic Eye's Gavin Lees captured Jim Demonakos & Mark Long's slideshow presentation of their graphic novel (with Nate Powell) The Silence of Our Friends on video at Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery this past Saturday
Just arrived via FedEx this evening, the first advance copy of Nancy Is Happy: Complete Dailies 1943-1945 by Ernie Bushmiller! We're all pawing at it excitedly, admiring Jacob Covey's above-and-beyond design job. Wait'll you see it, folks, seriously.
I always was very fond of the mini-comics format -- take two to four 8 1/2 x 11 sheets, fold them once, staple, and voilà! You have an adorable little 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 comic book for mere pennies. But I could never really figure out what to do with this old-school, low-tech format.
For this catalog season, we have created 21 "FBI•MINI" booklets (most in this format, although there are a few oddities), as premiums for customers who order books directly from us. They are available free with the purchase of their "matching" book or books -- or for those customers who've already bought those books but are desperate to get the FBI•MINI, free with the purchase of $50 worth of any other Fantagraphics mail-order merchandise.
If any of these catch your interest (and if you're reading this blog surely at least one of them will) you can click right on any of them to a more detailed listing on our website -- or just click right here and all 21 will pop up for you to peruse.
The new Diamond Previews catalog is out today and in it you'll find our usual 2-page spread (download the PDF) with our releases scheduled to arrive in your local comic shop in December 2011 (give or take — some release dates may have changed since the issue went to press) and a selection of gift book suggestions. We're pleased to offer additional and updated information about these upcoming releases here on our website, to help shops and customers alike make more informed ordering decisions.
In addition to the inductees selected by the judges, the nominees to be selected by voters and announced at Comic-Con this summer include comics scholar Bill Blackbeard, who edits our Krazy & Ignatz series, and Kim Deitch. You can also find the work of nominee Harvey Pekar in our Complete Crumb Comics series. Eligible voters can cast their ballot right here.
I'm enjoying the flow of decontextualized absurdity and sight gags at the anonymous Nancy Panels Tumblr page, which is exactly what it says it is. Perhaps it will tide you over while you patiently (or impatiently) await Nancy Is Happy, our first collection of Ernie Bushmiller Nancy strips, which is now rescheduled for December 2011.