Friday, January 06, 2012

Art Collection: "Nancy" Comic Strip By Ernie Bushmiller, 1941, With Bonus Gordo Junk Gag

(Click for bigger!)

This pen, brush, and ink drawing on Strathmore illustration board, 6.5" x 23", is for the Nancy strip which ran on Thursday, January 16, 1941, and until very recently was the earliest Bushmiller art in my collection by far (Wait until you see my 1927 Fritzi Ritz!).

As you can see, this is filled with a lot more detail (the tweed of Sluggo's cap, the extra patches on his pants and the hole in the sole of his shoe, the more-or-less unnecessary garbage can in the second panel, etc.) than Ernie would feel the need to include in his later work, and it's a lot more urban in character.

But let's talk instead about Floy Floy, Nancy and Sluggo's Chinese friend! This is from about a month's worth of gags revolving around this new, short-lived character. It's hardly surprising that the tyke embodies certain stereotypes: his slanty eyes, his cap, his tunic, the way he holds his hands, the fact that his father runs a laundry, etc. At least he doesn't have a pigtail and buck teeth! But elsewhere in the series, Bushmiller played against stereotypes in a very funny way. When Nancy and Sluggo first meet Floy Floy, for instance, they talk to him in ridiculous and insulting Engrish: "Me Nancy. Him Sluggo. We velly glad to meet you. Telly us your namee!" Floy Floy responds, to their mortification, "You twerps can skip that corny talk, if you don't mind. Delighted to meet you!" In my favorite episode, Nancy throws a costume party and dresses like a Chinese girl to make Floy Floy feel "at home." Imagine her surprise when she answers the door to find her friend dressed in full Scottish regalia! And again, in the strip shown above, it's Sluggo's ignorance which drives the gag. Great stuff.

Coincidentally, I have another comic strip drawing in my collection featuring a corny "Chinese Junk" gag, a "Gordo" by Gus Arriola from June 27, 1979:

(Click for bigger)

I liked Gordo when I was a kid, probably because it was the only comic strip which took place in a landscape familiar to me, but never as much as I loved Peanuts or Nancy. What Gordo really demonstrates, however, is that drawing beautifully, which Arriola certainly did, isn't enough to make a great comic strip. His draftsmanship, fluid and economical, was beyond reproach, but the example above shows that the writing wasn't all that great, nor were the compositions (note that the dropped border on the third panel creates a lopsided effect). His Sunday pages (great example on the Wikipedia page) were a lot better, more adventurous, but the dailies just... missed. I'm happy to have this drawing*, but it's not a collection I can see pursuing.

*Update: this strip was given to me! I've bought several "Nancy" strips from one great dealer, and he always throws in some extras, which is really weird and wonderful (who does that?). He's given me some awful stuff (several "Priscilla's Pop" strips, blecch) but recently he actually gave me an Alley Oop! I was surprised to say the least. Wow!


Matty Boy said...

I liked Gordo more than I liked Nancy when I was a kid, but now his constant attempts at romance that were rebuffed is kind of like Pepe Le Pew. Sexual harassment isn't the comic goldmine it once was.

Peteykins said...

Right, that's very true. This one is a relief because Gordo himself isn't in it.

Some of the Sunday pages really are very, very good.

JMC said...

Odd comment in the Nancy strip -- "Both Junky" -- that might be the title of that day's entry? ANYway, thanks for these comic-strip entries!

Anonymous said...

There's a Gordo/Gus Arriola book for those who enjoy his stuff, as I did:

In one strip the animal characters are discussing their favorite cocktails. The owl's is a "Hoot Gibson," which turns out to be a Martini with a tiny field mouse floating in it.

Peteykins said...

Right, that was the title. Comics still often had titles at this point. The practice was phased out when the shrink ray hit comics during the WWII paper shortages, when comics sections were reduced. Bill Griffith revived the practice in Zippy the Pinhead.

Still, it's alarming to see the word "junky" on a Nancy strip, isn't it?

Sharkbabe said...

The Nancy strip is such beautiful genius penstrokes and composition. Ernie B's artistry is beyond compare.

Peteykins said...

Well, he's getting there, Sharkbabe. What impresses me the most in this one is the way the buildings in the last panel echo the shape of the junk cart. On the other hand, the way the horse's front legs intersect with Floy Floy's head is pretty awkward. His pen work is already utterly assured here. He really was one of the all-time greats, and I'm so glad so many are coming around to this fact.