Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Art Collection: Two "Nancy" Daily Drawings By Ernie Bushmiller, June 1947

(Click either overall image for bigger!)

Both of these pen, brush, and ink drawings are on boards measuring 6.5" x 22", and were published just two days apart from each other on June 26 and 28, 1947, and both are reprinted in Fantagraphics' wonderful new Nancy Likes Christmas collection, which features the complete dailies from 1946-1948 (more on that below). The one above also has a "rough draft" of an unused punchline written in pencil above the final panel: "He opens at Carnegie Hall next week," which would have been funnier. (By the way, neither of these are folded in the center; they just look that way because of how I scanned them.)

I mentioned previously that in the mid 40s, Bushmiller was still doing "theme of the week" strips revolving around a common activity or character. These two strips are from a week which featured an unnamed character, the "new brainy girl" who would never be seen again, and it's no wonder, because she is a true grotesque:

The content of these strips is a bit of a bummer: smart girls are ugly, pretentious, and unsuitable girlfriend material (as Sluggo discovers to his detriment).  In the beginning of the week, Nancy gives the girl a chance, but then quickly tires of her insufferable ways (she physically assaults her twice!).

(Above: note how far into the hairdo the artist begins (ends?) Nancy's "hair spikes".)

These strips brilliantly demonstrate Bushmiller in transition: the June 26 strip is fairly cluttered, but the June 28 one is quite a bit simpler, and the use of the fence for the "reveal" in the final panel gives a clear indication of the artist's strategies to come (nobody used fences as persistently or as cleverly as Bushmiller).

Technically, these drawings are incredibly sure-handed. Pencil lines, if there are any, are not visible. There is no white paint on either of these, but plenty of scraping where the cartoonist adjusted contours and executed minor, obsessive corrections.

As I mentioned above, both of these (along with the rest of "new brainy girl" week) are reprinted in Nancy Likes Christmas, Fantagraphics' second volume of Nancy dailies. If you hesitated to buy the first volume (which covers 1943-45) because Bushmiller hadn't yet hit his stride in the early forties, don't let that stop you from picking up this one. Design quibbles aside (Why, I wonder, does this new book not say "complete dailies 1946-48" anywhere on the cover? Who concluded that yellow type on a white background was legible? Do the endpapers really have to be so ugly?), these years show Bushmiller progressing from "very good" to "absolutely great" as he began to cast off the "theme of the week" approach and gradually settled into the "disconnected gag of the day" formula which served him so well. The strips are funnier, more surprising, there are fewer dated references to contemporary news events, and the compositions become increasingly strict and ingenious as the artist learned more and more how to lead the eye.The next volumes will be KILLER. I can't wait.

Order it today!


vollsticks said...

Just commented on this at your CAF gallery! Thanks for those close-up scans, it IS great to see those pen-strokes on Nancy's hair and the brainy girls, and we can see where the brush is used to spot the blacks...I love the confidence in the facial construction, especially that lovely swooping curve of Nancy's frown! I'm beginning to think for sure that Bushmiller inked with a lettering nib, looking at the ends of his pen strokes they're more "squared-off" than tapered like you'd get with a crow-quill nib...I could be wrong, what do you think, comparing the actual lettering to the artwork? Anyway thank you so much these scans are so fantastic!

All the best!


Peteykins said...


I'm afraid I don't know my nibs as well as you obviously do, but it's always looked to me like Bushmiller used the same pen for everything, lettering and figures.

Next year, Fantagraphics will publish a book of Bushmiller studies called "How to Read Nancy" by Mark Newgarden and Paul Karasik. This book will certainly address pen use.

Thanks so much for the comment!

steverse said...

I think it's love.

Anonymous said...

i think i remember a little girl who was a friend of nancy's...i think i remember her dressed as a witch. this wasnt oona, this girl lived in a rundown house, but i swear i can remember her wearing a pointed witches hat. i've looked on wikipedia and around the internet but no luck. am i mistaken? did nancy have a little witch friend? patty

Peteykins said...

You're not mistaken, but that's from the John Stanley comic book version of Nancy, not the Bushmiller newspaper strip.

Anonymous said...

"Why, I wonder, does this new book not say "complete dailies 1946-48" anywhere on the cover?" Because 2 strips are missing... 1/1/46 and another (see the credits in the final pages).

BTW... I've been doing a Nancy Sundays blog since February, http://nancyeverysunday.blogspot.com/
Hop on over, I've posted every Nancy Sunday from the 1950s and am now starting the 1960s.