Thursday, June 06, 2024

A Month of Wednesdays: May 2024


The Best of Ernie Bushmiller's Nancy (Henry Holt/Comicana) This 1988 book has long been out of print, but when its editor and writer Brian Walker noted during his curator's talk on the first night of Nancy Fest at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum (see the previous post) that he had found a few extra boxes of it in his garage and that they would be on sale the following day during the book sale portion of the event, I knew I had to try and get one (And, indeed, it bumped Nancy & Sluggo's Guide to Life, below, off my shopping list).

The book, perhaps the beginning of popular culture's reevaluation of Bushmiller and his career, now seems like something of a Rosetta Stone for so much Nancy work to follow (And for Nancy Fest in particular), including as it does Paul Karasik and Mark Newgarden's "How to Read Nancy" essay (which they would expand into a 2017 book of the same name) and a Zippy comic strip by Bill Griffith in which the future Ernie Bushmiller biographer drew his character interacting with the cartoonist and his creations. There are even some mentions of the Bushmiller Society, the first public meeting of which would kick off Nancy Fest!

(I do believe the book has spent some years in a box in a garage; my copy has a slight bend in the upper righthand corner of the cover, and it has a basement-y, old book smell about it. It was still a worthwhile purchase, though!)

The 230-page book is divided into heavily-illustrated prose sections written by Walker, between which are plenty examples of Nancy strips...and quite a few Fritzi Ritz strips (Bushmiller's career started with him inheriting the Fritzi Ritz strip from another cartoonist, but, not too long after introducing Nancy as a supporting character in the glamor girl's strip, Nancy and Sluggo took over, and the strip's name was officially changed to Nancy).

In Walker's introduction, "Confessions of a Nancy Fan," he shared a somewhat different story about his conversion than the one he repeated at Nancy Fest. He admitted to reading and liking the strip as a child, but as he grew up and began to consider himself more sophisticated, he found it "offensively" dumb, and an insult to his intelligence.

He then recounted finding himself at a cocktail party, where he was engaged in conversation with an art snob who told him he never read the comics; "Most of them are so out-of-date and boorish. Particularly Nancy." 

Walker found himself defending Nancy, and, through it, the honor of the comic strip medium. Which makes sense, given that Nancy is in some ways the very definition of a comic strip (In fact, Walker shares a quote from Art Spiegelman, in which the latter points out that if you look up the definition of a comic strip in Webster's Illustrated Dictionary, there's "a postage stamp-sized reproduction of a Nancy strip" right next to the definition of a comic strip).

Walker recounts his journey to reassessing Nancy, meeting with various appreciators of the strip as well as Jim Carlsson, a neighbor and friend of Bushmiller's and, by the time the introduction is over, it's clear that Walker has had his own conversion experience on the value of Bushmiller's Nancy

A biography of  Bushmiller and an appreciation for his working methods follows, in prose sections entitled "From Copyboy to Gag Man", "The Comics Craftsman", "The Public and Private Bushmiller" and "The Sixth Decade," each broken up by generous collections of these strips. 

In addition to a great deal of what we might term "peak" Nancy strips, many of these organized into thematic sections ("The Classic Years," "Nancy Grows Up," "Passing the Time," "Anything for a Laugh"), the book contains an awful lot of Fritzi Ritz (in the sections "Fritzi Ritz Becomes a Star" and "Fritzi Goes to Hollywood"), the latter featuring an awful lot of Nancy, who, at a certain point, becomes a supporting character in her aunt's adventures.

It's quite interesting to see these strips, and those that follow in the section "Nancy and Sluggo Take Over," as they show Bushmiller working in a continuity strip format, rather than the gag-a-day format he would become especially known (and revered) for. It's still Bushmiller's Frtitzi, Nancy and Sluggo, but not how we're used to seeing them, or even thinking about them. 

Of note in these strips are a few instances of Bushmiller drawing racial minorities, as his strip is generally dominated by white folks. In one Fritzi Ritz strip, the title character is seen sitting in a theater gazing at her date Mr. Van Sheek while a cartoon heart appears between them; in the background two men, one white and one black, both holding cleaning implements to show they work their in a custodial capacity comment on them; the black man's skin is all inky black, save for the wide whites around his eyes and his huge white lips. This is the only instance of a black person I've ever seen in a Bushmiller comic, and I've read a lot of 'em these past few months. 

In one of the early, continuing stories, Nancy runs away from home, ultimately hopping the rails. She ends up...really far away, and is found and briefly adopted by a Native American family. The patriarch, named Mr. Tomahawk, is introduced saying "Ugh."

I wonder if these strips would have made it into the collection were it being put together today? There are a few other instances of racial jokes that appear later in the collection, long after it's become Nancy and settled into its gag format. 

In one, Nancy and Sluggo see a new kid standing in front a Chinese laundry, and decide to get acquainted with him. Nancy opens with "Hello-- Me Nancy-- Him Sluggo-- We velly glad to meet you telly us your namee!"

The boy responds with "My name's Floy Floy-- And you twerps can skip that corny talk--If you don't mind--delighted to meet you!" 

Nancy and Sluggo are then drawn only a few inches high, walking away in embarrassment.

The same page contains a strip in which the kids duck into a butcher's shop for relief from the cold. In the second panel, Sluggo sees a child running towards the door; "Here comes Oogy the Eskimo on the run too!" When Nancy asks him if "even" he had to come in to warm up, the boy responds with "No warm up--" and proceeds to position himself in the walk-in freezer, saying "Coolum off!"

In addition to the previously mentioned inclusion of the Karasik/Newgarden essay and the Griffith strip, there's also a brief essay by John Carlin about the fine art world's embrace of and appropriation of Nancy, a section on merchandising, a section on the Mad magazine parodies and Mark Newgarden's strip "Love's Savage Fury" starring Nancy and Bazooka Joe (a piece that also hung in the "Beyond" half of the Billy Ireland's The Nancy Show: Bushmiller and Beyond show).

Granted, it feels a little weird reviewing a 36-year-old, long out-of-print book in this particular feature on my blog, in which it is designated as a book strong enough to be worth purchasing, rather than just borrowing from the library (My library system doesn't even have a copy!), but it is a comic I bought in May, so I guess it qualifies. 

I guess if you find the opportunity to buy it for yourself, I'd recommend it as an important book in Nancy and Bushmiller's history, even though there are other more recent and much easier books featuring the great cartoonist's greatest works to buy these days (as you'll see as you keep reading). 

The Nancy Show: Celebrating the Art of Ernie Bushmiller (Fantagraphics/Sunday Press Books) Not everyone is lucky enough to live in Ohio, which means there are a whole lot of comics art fans who aren't within easy driving distance of Ohio State University's Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum in Columbus, Ohio, which is currently hosting the two-gallery exhibit The Nancy Show: Bushmiller and Beyond

For those who can't make the trip, Sunday Press Books and Fantagraphics have the next best thing: The show's catalog and companion book, edited by Peter Maresca and Brian Walker, the latter of whom curated the show.

The book begins with a section on Nancy creator and cartoonist Ernie Bushmiller, including the 1948 comic strip autobiography that he drew for an issue of Collier's Magazine (the rather famous one, ending with the punchline "I wanna be a man of distinction") and its accompanying text, plus a short biography by Walker (son of Mort Walker, the creator of Beetle Bailey and Hi and Lois, both of which Brian continues to work on, as well as the author of the seminal 1988 book on Bushmiller and Nancy, The Best of Ernie Bushmiller's Nancy). It's illustrated by Bushmiller cartoons and a few photographs of the man himself. 

The book's heart is the section labeled "The Artwork," featuring over 100 strips from Bushmiller, beginning with Fritzi Ritz and Phil Fumble comics and then leading into a substantial collection of Nancy strips. These are broken up into various subjects, just as they are in the gallery: "Social Studies," "Relationship," "The Fourth Wall" and so on.

The strips presented in this section aren't presented as they would be in a regular comics collection, but appear to be original scans of the original art. They are mostly yellow-ish in color and include various things that would usually be cleaned up in a comics collection, like pencil markings of the date, title of the strip or other notes, visibly pasted-in titles and copyright information and, in at least one case, a smudge and some coffee stains.

The result? It reads like both a great collection of Nancy strips and an intimation of what seeing the originals hanging on the gallery walls is like.

This section is followed by one titled simply "The Strips," which includes about 40 color Sunday strips, and then one entitled "Beyond Bushmiller," which contains strips from Bushmiller's successors on the strip (Mark Lasky, Jerry Scott, Guy and Brad Gilchrist and Olivia James), some try-out strips Ivan Brunetti did when he was attempting to get the gig (along with a few paragraphs of commentary from him about the process) and various spoofs and homages. 

There's also a section called "The Collector", in which comedy writer and Bushmiller collector Tom Gammill (who shared his collection with the Billy Ireland for the show) shows off his collection of Bushmiller strips (and weird Nancy merchandise), complete with commentary.

And, finally, How to Read Nancy writers Paul Karasik and Mark Newgarden are back with a new, four-page feature, "How To Read Nancy's Face", in which the pair share insights on the design of the character's face and then walk readers through the evolution of that design, from "The Dawn of Nancy" in 1932, through "Autopilot Nancy" in 1976, to the Nancy faces of Bushmiller's various successors. 

All told, it's an irresistible package for fans of Nancy and Bushmiller, and a must-have edition to any comic strip fan's Nancy bookshelf. 



Green Arrow Vol. 1: Reunion (DC Comics) Guys, I have a confession to make: I did not read the last DCU continuity-altering cosmic event series, the one that was announced as Dark Crisis but ended up being called Dark Crisis on Infinite Earths. Not even in trade. Not even in a trade borrowed from the library, in which case reading it costs me nothing but a little of my time (Of course, if you read EDILW monthly, you already know this, since you didn't read a review of Dark Crisis, and I tend to review almost every comic I read here). 

I just couldn't muster up enough interest to care about such things anymore. The New 52 really and truly broke me from the spell of thinking of the DCU as a real, if malleable, shared universe setting whose history and major events I needed to keep up with. The fact that Dark Crisis was so close on the heels of Dark Nights: Death Metal, another crises dealing with the state of the DCU and its continuity (and which also had the word "dark" in its title), certainly didn't help any. 

Which brings us to this collection of the first six issues of a new Green Arrow series, written by Dark Crisis writer Joshua Williamson himself, and drawn by artist Sean Izaakse (with former Green Arrow artists Phil Hester and Ande Parks helping out near the end of the arc, their appearance coming at a logical point, and guest artist Trevor Hairsine finishing the book's last pages).

It's basically the definition of a continuity comic, detailing what Green Arrow and his now-extensive family's status quo is and what their history was (The first issue cover, which serves as the cover of the collection, was actually a wrap-around one, with another dozen or so characters on the back, only some of whom actually appear within this arc).

As far as I can tell, it looks like "everything happened" (the same approach that Grant Morrison took for Batman during his run on that character's main book), even some of the New 52 stuff, which would seemingly contradict so much of went before, and appears to count now (younger sister Emiko, created during The New 52, is mentioned by Green Arrow in a passing snatch of dialogue, but doesn't otherwise appear within the book). So basically, all the Green Arrow comics you've read before "count," even if the events in some of them must have happened differently than they did on the page...something of an act of cognitive dissonance, I realize, but one that should be familiar to DC readers who have been reading the publisher's output for more than a few years at this point.

Whatever happened to Green Arrow during Dark Crisis—I'm guessing Doomsday was involved at some point, as he appears in several flashback to GA's history, and I'm not familiar with any other meeting between the two, and a flashback panel complete with editorial box asterisk citing DCOIE #6 explains that Green Arrow went missing during the time the rest of the Justice League returned from an otherwordly prison—he is now missing, lost in time and space (He's first seen washing up on a shore and fearing he's back on his origin island, only to discover he's actually on a weird alien world). 

His allies Black Canary, Roy Harper (wearing his brown, red and yellow Arsenal costume from Devin Grayson, Rick Mays and company's 1998 Arsenal miniseries) and Connor Hawke (now with long hair worn in a bun and sporting a new costume keeping his original color scheme) are riding motorcycles through Gotham, looking for him. 

There they meet a teenage Lian Harper, calling herself Cheshire cat, who is both mysteriously alive (so James Robinson's dumb Justice League: Cry For Justice apparently still happened) and mysteriously older than she should be.

No sooner do they say hello, however, then Lian and Connor disappear, seemingly teleported away from the others, with the fading out Lian giving them their only clue: "Find.. ...Amanda Waller."

And that's the basic premise of the series. The lost Oliver Queen believes his family can never be reunited or a terrible disaster will occur, and someone or some thing seems intent on enforcing their separation, occasionally teleporting offenders somewhere else.  Roy and Canary go on the hunt for Waller, while Ollie, Connor and Lian travel through time and space, Ollie only gradually beginning to question the prophecy he has been given by an older version of himself as to why this is the best way to handle things (It's obviously bonkers, as he will learn.)

Along the way, we see various significant characters from Green Arrow family history, like Count Vertigo, Brick, Cheshire and even Parallax (not sure how he's still around, but I admit I lost track of him during shortly after Convergence), plus some more unexpected characters, like the current iteration of the Legion of Super-Heroes and Peacemaker.

Eventually Ollie is found and all seems to end happily...although one member of his family seems to be shot to death on the last pages. I say seems to be because although the character is laying in a pool of their own blood after catching several bullets, it seems completely insane to resurrect and reunite the whole Arrow family while killing one of them off. 

I'm assuming it's a classic-enough cliffhanger, and I'll have to wait for a second volume to see how it turns out. I'd welcome reading one; I really like these characters, particularly Oliver Queen, Roy Harper and Connor Hawke, and though this plot seemed more superhero than street-level (the characters generally working a little better in the latter mode), it was a pleasure to hang out with them all again.

It's somewhat disappointing that Izaakse was unable to draw the entire arc himself, but, like I said, the Hester and Parks team is pretty well employed, drawing a section where Green Arrow is sent back to his own past, the time right after his resurrection in the pages of the 2001, Kevin Smith-written "Quiver" arc, which was of course originally drawn by the team. 

Nancy & Sluggo's Guide to Life: Comics about Money, Food and Other Essentials (New York Review Comics) As I mentioned above, I had every intention of buying this new collection of Ernie Bushmiller's Nancy strips when it came out, until the surprise availability of Brian Walker's out-of-print 1988 The Best of Ernie Bushmiller's Nancy bumped it off my to-buy list. It helped that I found out it was available at my local library ("Why not just by both?" you ask. I probably could have afforded to do so, but I'm basically at a crisis point with my comics collection now, where it has all but filled up all the available space I have for it, and thus I'm trying to limit buying new books as much as possible. At least until I buy a house. Which, um, isn't on the immediate horizon.) 

So, what have we here? Just about 150 pages of Nancy strips, dailies and Sundays, all presented in black and white. The strips included are, according to the back cover copy, culled from "the beloved Kitchen Sink Press editions," which were published in five volumes between 1989 and 1991. There are also some "newly selected" strips.

These are all broken into three broad categories, which make up the chapters of the collection: Money, Food and Sleep. I'm not entirely convinced this was the absolute best way to organize the book, as it leads to a lot of similar gags appearing near one another (especially in the sleep chapter, where Nancy and Sluggo tend to have a lot of crazy dreams, one of Bushmiller's weaker gag motifs), but heck, I wouldn't know how to go about organizing a Nancy collection myself, so I suppose this is just as well.

The new collection includes a brand-new foreword by Nancy fan and the publisher of those Kitchen Sink Press editions, Denis Kitchen. 

In it, he describes how the comics industry that lauded him for Kitchen Sink Press' decades of collections of classic comic strips recoiled when he started publishing Nancy:

Oblivious to the opinions of industry philistines, I followed my own instincts, publishing five volumes of Bushmiller's Nancy. Despite resistance in the core comic shop market, they sold in the mass market. Further evidence of having no conventional marketing sense, I also produced Italian-made silk Nancy & Sluggo neckties, with matching tie tacks, directed to an audience whose idea of dressing up was a clean T-shirt. 

"Flash forward a few decades," he wrote. "The world has changed in countless ways, but nowhere so profound or dramatic as the views toward Nancy." Kitchen then goes on to explain several signs of the world's changing attitudes towards Bushmiller's Nancy, mentioning how well his merchandise is now well-received (especially by young ladies, often with Nancy and Sluggo t shirts and/or tattoos) at various comic shows (he mentions Cartoon Crossroads Columbus among several others) and, later, both the Bushmiller Society and the just-passed Billy Ireland Nancy Fest in Columbus: 

I've learned there is a Secret Bushmiller Society, with members expressing almost worshipful adoration of Bushmiller and his most famous creation. It is an organization with cells scattered across North America and portions of Europe. The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum—part of the Ohio State University, in Columbus—has announced a Nancy festival for 2024; an entire event devoted to our favorite character. An esoteric cult that runs so deep? Who knew

That's two mentions of Columbus in one introduction. Not bad! Kitchen goes on to state that this is a "best of" collection including strips from Kitchen Sink's Nancy Eats Food and Dreams and Schemes, "along with a large number of freshly curated never-before-reprinted Nancy strips about money."

What follows are many pages of examples that go a long way towards explaining that shift in attitudes about Nancy, and why there is a Bushmiller Society, a Nancy Fest and so many younger fans of Bushmiller's masterpiece of a gag strip. 

Here's hoping it sells like hotcakes—um, I guess I coulda done my part by buying a copy rather than just borrowing one from the library, huh?—so we'll get a future volume, maybe taking the strips from the intriguingly-named Kitchen Sink editions How Sluggo Survives! and Bums, Beatniks and Hippies

Superboy: The Man of Tomorrow (DC) They sure don't make these things easy to read. 

This book stars the 1993-created, teenage clone version of the character, eventually named Conner Kent or Kon-El, and part of its premise is that the character feels out-of-place and marginalized in a new version of the DC Universe that didn't include him. Which was news to me, as he—or a version of him—seems to have survived the 2011 hard reboot of the DCU that was "The New 52" (That was him in the horrible looking Teen Titans reboot, right? I didn't read it because, well, it was horrible looking), and he featured prominently in Brian Michael Bendis and company's 2019 Young Justice reboot. Heck, he was even alive and well and definitely extant in the first issue of 2022's Dark Crisis: Young Justice series, which I read by accident (I assumed it was a one-shot, not the first part of a six-issue series...which I guess I missed the collection of...?).

What I did not read was 2022-2023 series Dark Crisis-turned-Dark Crisis on Infinite Earths, where I'm assuming the DC Universe must have been un-created and re-created once again (even though that just happened in the Scott Snyder-written 2020 Dark Nights: Death Metal series, the gist of which seemed to be the broad severing of much of the New 52 reboot from the DCU timeline/continuity, and the resumption of post-Crisis continuity...?), this time without Conner Kent/Kon-El, at least for a the span of the series...?

Really, you shouldn't have to pick up a standalone Superboy graphic novel and be overly burdened with questions of whether or not you've read enough previous comics to make sense of it.

To writer Kenny Porter's credit then, while there are references to Superboy being new to the DCU and forgotten by much of the world, the writer doesn't dwell on it, mostly using it for a springboard to send Superboy in a new least for the span of a mini-series. Mostly a reader like me is just left with a nagging feeling that he missed something. 

So Superboy is back, I guess, but feeling out of place. He's living with the Kents on the Smallville farm, but when he tries to help out with a Doctor Polaris attack in Metropolis, he finds that Superman, Supergirl and the other Superman (Jon Kent, who very much replaced him as Superboy for several years, though Porter doesn't emphasize that here) have the situation well in hand. 

When he visits the Fortress of Solitude and asks Kelex to show him current distress signals and disasters on Earth ("The world's bigger than Smallville and Metropolis," he narrates), he sees various heroes fighting various villains in different parts of the world, including a panel showing his Young Justice teammates Wonder Girl, Robin and Impulse, the first two wearing their costumes from the last Young Justice series. (This of course begs the question of why he's not with them, and makes me wonder if they too were similarly bumped out of the DCU during Dark Crisis; I just ordered the Dark Crisis: Young Justice collection from the library as I've been writing this, so maybe I'll find out when I read that.)

It's then he decides to think bigger, and asks Kelex for galactic distress signals. Finding a planet under attack by Dominator warships, the leader of them shown in hologram to have a weird reverse coloration scheme, with a reddish-pink head and a big yellow circle on his forehead, Superboy grabs a teleportation bracelet and zeta-beams himself right into the middle of the battle.

He quickly finds the attackers aren't just Dominiator ships, but rather genetically-altered clones bred to be weapons—which of course hits home to Superboy, given his origins—and he also finds they're not unopposed. Enter the Cosmoteers, a trio of renegade experiments of the same sort that have made it their mission to shutdown Dominator X's living weapon creation operation. 

Although the Cosmoteers are super-powered teens with a seemingly noble goal, there's one key difference between them and Superboy—they kill their foes. After the required ritual of fighting-and-then-teaming up, Superboy lends his strength to the Cosmoteers, fighting alongside them in the hopes of teaching them that it's better to leave their enemies tied up for the police—here, the Green Lantern Corps—to pick them up, rather than killing them all the time.

All seems to be going well for a while, but not all of the Cosmoteers are so eager to adopt the Earth superhero method of fighting evil, and Superboy eventually finds himself in a life-and-death struggle against a Cyborg-Superboy.

After his adventures in space, a good portion of the last issue is devoted to establishing a new status quo on Earth, where Superboy finds the whole, extended Superman Family—the one seen in Superman: Action Comics Vol 1: The Rise of Metallo, reviewed here a few months ago—waiting to see him, and eager to give him his new jacket, denoting him as part of the team. Mid-cookout he teleports away to space, however, Porter seemingly suggesting this will be this Superboy's beat now, bringing the House of El style heroics to those in need on other planets.

Jahnoy Lindsay handles both art and colors and, somewhat remarkably for a series of this length in this day and age (though it shouldn't be), he manages to draw and color the entire series himself. The style is very much in the range of DC house style, but it's high-quality work, and the colors are notably bright and flashy, with an awful lot of pink throughout (that's the way Lindsay depicts Superboy's tactile-telekinesis power, which in this series seems more like an all-purpose energy field, as a sort of pink aura). 

Though in the long run it amounts to little more than a side-quest for the character between two radically different status quos, it's diverting enough, and I enjoyed the time spent with a favorite character of mine. I guess it will remain to be seen if Superboy is continued to be depicted as a space-faring superhero, as he is here, or just part of the Superman Family crowd, as he was in that Action Comics arc introducing everyone as a matching jacket-wearing team. 


Cat Out of Water (RH Graphic) Prolific cartoonist Art Baltazar has an unenviable task in this, the first book in a new line of graphic novels based on Dr. Seuss' work: Not only is he translating the work of one of the most famous, recognizable and well-read writer/illustrator of the 20th century into a new medium, he's doing so in his own style. He doesn't choke. More here

Fake Chinese Sounds (Kokila) Grade-schooler Měi Yīng's life seemed happy enough until she got to fifth grade, and encountered a relentless bully who seemed to make fun of every aspect of her life, singling her out because she's of Taiwanese descent. Can the examples set by her grandmother and mother help her find the inner strength to deal with it? This remarkable graphic novel by picture book illustrator Jing Jing Tsong features highly expressive, sharp, jagged, abstracted art with a powerful use of color. More here

Unhappy Camper (HarperAlley) The Measuring Up team of Lily LaMotte and Ann Xu reunite to tell the story of Michelle, a young girl whose parents are forcing her to attend a special Taiwanese-American summer camp to get in better touch with her heritage...and, hopefully, grow closer to her older sister, who has always enthusiastically embraced her culture. Will Michelle learn to be herself, or will she continue to do whatever it takes to fit in? Yes, this is indeed the second book about a young Taiwanese-American girl struggling with identity issues at school that I read this month. Yes, it seems odd that 2/3 of the books I've reviewed for Good Comics For Kids this month or on that subject, but then, May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, so that might explain the timing of the releases. More here