How To Read Nancy

As you might have guessed, both Mark and I are big fans of Ernie Bushmiller's Nancy comic strips. However, I had never seen this excellent 1988 essay How To Read Nancy. It was written by Mark Newgarden, co-creator of the Garbage Pail Kids, and cartoonist Paul Karasik. Not only does it give a bit of insight into Bushmiller's brilliance, it's also a great, concise educational essay about visual storytelling through the analysis of a single strip.


From the essay (ignore the OCR type-os):

To say that Nancy is a simple gag strip about a simple-minded slot-nosed kid Is to miss the point completely. Nancv only appears to be simple at a casual glance. Like architect Mies Van Der Rohe, the simplicity is a carefully designed function of a complex amalgam of formal rules laid out by the designer. To look at Bushmiller as an architect is entirely
appropriate, for Nancy is, in a sense, a blue print for a comic strip. Walls, floors, rocks, trees, Ice-cream cones, motion lines, midgets and principals are carefully positioned with no need for further embellishment. And they are laid out with one purpose in mind – to get the jag across. Minimallst? Formalist? Structurallst? Cartoonist!

"Gag it down" was Bushmiller's off-spoken credo and the gag was the raison d'etre of Nancy. Characterization, atmosphere, emotional depth, social comment, plot, internal consistency, and common sense are all merrily surrendered in Bushmiller's universe to the true function of a comic strip as he unrelentingly saw it: to provoke the "gag reflex" of his readership on a daily basis.

Link to PDF