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This is the original pen, brush, ink, and blue pencil drawing by Ernie Bushmiller for the Fritzi Ritz strip which originally ran in newspapers on Wednesday, February 16, 1927. The panels have been cut apart for framing sometime in the past, but otherwise the artwork is complete. Each panel is about 5.75" x 7.75".
Ah, Fritzi! Before Nancy came along in 1933 to ruin her life forever, she was a kicky flapper, irresponsible and carefree, a glamorous film actress and a shameless gold-digger, forever throwing herself at wealthy bachelors. She was vain and fickle, and always dressed to the nines in the latest fashions.
Ernie Bushmiller inherited the feature, begun in 1922 by Larry Whittington, in 1925 when he was barely twenty years old. His earliest efforts are crude, but he came up to speed rapidly. This strip shows elements he was to refine later (like the clumsy "pools of brick detail" on the wall in the second panel; compare to the more strategic, skillful use of the same technique here, over forty years later), and some of the elements are understandably weak (he had been a daily strip artist for only 1 1/2 years at this point). Otherwise, this pantomime gag already shows his expert storytelling, and the concept of a gag built around the use of an everyday object to solve an unrelated problem in an unexpected way is classic Bushmiller, very similar to the types of gags he'd do much later. Let's take a look:
That's Fritzi's protective father sitting unaware in the adjoining room. It's a great gag! It's easy to imagine seeing it in a silent film. And that's Fritzi's on-again-off-again boyfriend, the nebbishy Wally. Fritzi tossed him aside all the time, but always came back to poor, patient Wally. Here, he's having a fine ol' time with sexy Fritzi. Surprisingly fine, in fact:
My goodness! He's really going for it! I've looked at a lot of comic strips from the 1890s to the present day, and I must say that's pretty surprising. I can honestly say that I've never seen a mainstream newspaper comic strip character getting her boob felt up while making out with her boyfriend other than this one (it certainly never happened to
"Cathy"!). Some editor wasn't paying very close attention. And certainly such a passionate kiss would be out of place in Bushmiller's later, squeaky clean comics (Freudian occurrences notwithstanding).
But that's Fritzi for you! Alas, after Nancy entered the picture, Fritzi lost a lot of her vivaciousness, quickly relegated to the sidelines as a generic, yet still comely, authority figure. Wally disappeared forever. Although the title of the daily strip was officially changed to "Nancy" in 1938, a Fritzi Ritz Sunday page persisted into the 50s, increasingly ghostwritten by Bushmiller's assistants, and featuring her chaste adventures with boyfriend Phil Fumble. But Fritzi was never the same.
You can see an awesome collection of classic Fritzi Ritz Sunday pages and daily strips, reprinted from comic books and including some excellent extended continuities, mostly from the 30s, at the superb, lovingly curated fritziritz.com.
And, finally, curse the hacks Guy and Brad Gilchrist for their blasphemous, horror inducing zombie rockabilly white trash Fritzi Ritz, unacceptable in every way, still garbaging up the comics pages today. Ew, gross, gross, gross, look at all the positive comments on that awful thing!