Monday, May 16, 2011

Art Collection: "Nancy" Comic Strip By Ernie Bushmiller, 1945

Click for lots bigger!

This is a scan of the original drawing (pen and ink with the larger black areas brushed in on Bristol board) for a Nancy strip published on January 16, 1946. Taking into account the lead-time in comics publishing, we can safely assume it was drawn by Ernie Bushmiller in 1945. The board is about 5.5" x 20".

And you'd think that a 1945 strip would be an early Nancy, but it isn't. Nancy was introduced into Bushmiller's "Fritzi Ritz" in early 1933. At first she was a supporting character, often adding a sarcastic last word to the proceedings and embarrassing her aunt or deflating adult pretensions. The velcro-headed tyke soon took over, though, and in 1938 the title was officially changed to "Nancy." It's hard to imagine, but at that point it was a continuity strip, with stories which lasted for weeks (Nancy runs away, Nancy gets a big head when a popular doll is based upon her, Nancy meets local hoodlum Sluggo and both proceed to embarrass his nouveau riche relatives, etc.). Eventually, however, Bushmiller abandoned continuing storylines and settled into the gag-a-day format which would serve him well until his death in 1982.

This strip shows Bushmiller in transition: it's still a little crowded, with an abundance of patterning, cross-hatching and other details, but the character designs and proportions are basically locked-in. He hadn't yet arrived at the minimalist, modernist purity which would become the strip's hallmark in the 1950s and thereafter.

That said, the drawing is remarkably assured, with no white paint at all and only three tiny spots (not visible in the scan) where Bushmiller has scraped off the top layer of ink and paper to correct or smooth out the lines. No dot-screens were used for shading. Only the tiniest indications of pencil remain, and if there are any erasures, I can't find them. The strip is also in outstanding condition, with a little bit of a stain on Sluggo's shirt in the last panel and some spots here and there where some ink was likely transferred from something else the drawing was stacked under. One interesting aspect is that the panels (they're a little crooked because of stitched-together scan) and the copyright notice were pre-printed. The little lines on the left, also pre-printed, are guides for lettering.

"Agony Hour" was radio slang for call-in or advice shows, and it and related terms are still used occasionally today, especially in the form of "Agony Aunt" to refer to a female advice columnist. The use of the word "agony" in this context apparently dates back to the 18th century.

In any event, this certainly wasn't Sluggo's first fistfight, and it wouldn't be his last.


TexasYankee said...

I really enjoyed zooming in on the large version to see the detail.

Where did you get it? Did you choose it because it is a transition piece? Was it terribly expensive? How can you preserve it?

Peteykins said...

I got it from a dealer. I chose it because it was early-ish, and yes, because it was a transition period. I also chose it because it features both Nancy and Sluggo and is a good gag. It wasn't all that expensive.

Preserving it will be no problem, as it's made with very stable materials: Higgins permanent ink on clay-coated cotton rag board. These materials are typical of comic strip art.

What you have to watch out for is Zip-a-Tone/Ben Day dot screens, because they were usually applied with rubber cement, which separates, stains, and turns bright yellow/orange. I've got a late-30s "Bringing Up Father" by George McManus on which half the Zip-a-Tone has fallen off, and the remainder is really stained (but it's still a fantastic drawing).

Comrade PhysioProf said...

He really went hogwild on the fight scene, with flying sweat globules, curvy lines to indicate the fist movements, and the stars of pain.

Peteykins said...

Here is a really good example of what happens to dot screens when they're applied to the original artwork, rather than to the Photostat. And here you can see where TAD used blue pencil to indicate where the dot screen should be placed, rather than ruining his drawing with it (good move, TAD).

samael7 said...

So cool. And impressive. He may have stripped things down a bit over time, but it's really remarkable how much attention he still paid to every element in the frames. The second man's hat in the first panel, the fourth man's hair, and the shading on the speaker and microphone.