Oh, I get it now. After all this time, after reading how Robert Crumb claimed he had his daughter home-schooled in France with old Little Lulu comic books, and noting the frequent references by Bill Griffith and Patrick McDonnell to Nancy comic strips, I finally see what the attraction is, thanks to Ivan Brunetti’s book, An Anthology of Graphic Fiction, Cartoons and True Stories.
I admit I never thought Nancy in particular was especially clever, even when I read them as a child. I mostly recall cartoonist Ernie Bushmiller’s drawings of “hippies” as wearing torn clothes and always possessing guitars with broken strings and lots of flies. He seemed to confuse free-spiritedness with sloth and dishonesty.
But in his anthology’s introduction, Brunetti uses a 1958 strip about Nancy dreaming she’s being boiled, steamed and baked to demonstrate “algebraically balanced composition,” rhythm and efficiency. The final panel shows the girl waking up in bed to discover she’s been buried under a mountain of winter coats and hats. Each garment is clearly distinguishable from the other, by checks, stripes or dots.
“… The graphic clarity of the pile of coats … in lesser hands could have been turned into a gray, undifferentiated mush. Clutter was never depicted so unclutteredly,” he writes.
The anthology itself has a lot about Charles Schultz and nothing about Will Eisner, and with samples from Crumb, Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez (but not Mario), Charles Burns, Lynda Barry, Seth and Art Spiegelman, among the other usual suspects.
More later on this book.