Thursday, October 18, 2012

Art Collection DOUBLE HEADER! Two "Nancy" Daily Strip Drawings By Ernie Bushmiller, 1969

(Click for bigger!)

I recently picked up two original drawings by Ernie Bushmiller dating from Summer, 1969. Both are two-panel strips, and both were re-published in 1977 when Bushmiller's Parkinson's was getting the better of him (you can see where the old signatures, copyright notices and dates were whited-out and replaced, but the drawings and lettering were not revised), The boards measure 7" x 21", and both feature the artist's characteristic "priming the nib" marks at their top edges.

The one above (published July 21, 1969 and April 7, 1977) is particularly masterful, featuring a kind of criss-cross composition, where Nancy/Rollo get smaller and lower in the second panel, while the well gets larger and higher, stopping the eyes and emphasizing the end of the gag. I love the subtlety and economy of how just one small detail, the handle, indicates that the figures have moved to the other side of the well. The drawings are, of course, immaculate. Here are some details:

I also love the character Rollo, the rich kid. He wasn't like Ritchie Rich or other cartoon rich kids. Bushmiller didn't usually use the character to make jokes about wealth per se, but to lampoon the wealthy's taste for modernism in all its pricey forms (incomprehensible modern art, uncomfortable modernist furniture, etc.). In one strip, Rollo tells Nancy that his family is going to have a "real old-fashioned Christmas" just before revealing their cubist, abstract Christmas tree.

Next up is the drawing for the strip published on June 13, 1969 and June 29, 1977:

(Clicker for bigger.)

Even by Bushmiller's standards, this is a strangely random and pointless gag (the kind we love), but totally unpredictable. Some details:

Fantagraphics calls the 1940s and 50s Bushmiller's "classic years", but to me it's his 60s strips, so minimalist and precise, which are his strongest work, although perhaps less easy to appreciate because they're so barren. It's almost as if, in the 50s, he became the Mondrian of cartoonists, and then in the 60s, the Barnett Newman of the medium. 


HRH King Friday XIII, Ret. said...

Those spots on the parachute. The man should have been doing brain surgery with a steady hand like that.

Mr Bad Trash said...

Do the "two rocks" also indicate his evolving minimalism?

Anonymous said...

HRH King Friday XII, Ret--pretty sure those dots in the parchute and the parachutists outfit are Zip-a-Tone rather than hand-drawn. PSP, can you verify?

HRH King Friday XIII, Ret. said...

Anonymous, far be it from me to question you-- Anonymous-- who is responsible for so many visual and literary masterpieces across the globe over the ages. You're right up there with Unknown in my book. Please, go on.

Peteykins said...

Anonymous is right, it's Benday/Zip-a-tone on the parachute.