Written by John Stanley
Art by John Stanley and Dan Gormley
152 pages, color
Published by Drawn & Quarterly
I never really "got" Nancy. I’ve heard for years about Ernie Bushmiller’s original strips and how fantastic they were, but Bushmiller died right around the time I started paying serious attention to comic strips in the early 1980s. So I’ve never seen any of the originals, just the interpretations of other writers and artists over the years. I have, however, read some John Stanley comics in the form of Little Lulu, and I thought they were adorable. When I heard that Stanley had created stories for the Nancy comic years ago, I couldn’t help but wonder if this would finally be my introduction to the world of Nancy that so many other people had raved about.
Stanley’s stories are all short and to the point, which considering that Nancy was originally just a four-panel comic strip, is probably not a bad thing. There’s a wonderful disconnect from the real world into Nancy’s in these stories; I hesitate to say that they’re "kid’s comic logic" because it seems unfair to label them as something so simple. Rather, Stanley is telling fantastical stories where product exchanges at the department store erupt into chaos, rich boys always lose out to the downtrodden in the way of love, and witches live down the street. It’s all very matter-of-fact as Nancy (and occasionally Sluggo) wanders through this landscape, the impossible erupting around them in a no-nonsense manner.
That’s not to say that Nancy, under Stanley’s care, is unflappable. It’s especially true in the stories co-starring Oona Goosepimple, the young creepy girl who lives in the mansion down the street and whose house is full of witches, monsters, and ever-shifting corridors that you can get lost in for years. Oona was Stanley’s own creation, and reading the first Oona stories here surprises me that no one else picked up the reins with her after Stanley left the book. While the Oona stories stand out as being particularly odd, I think in some ways they’re the best pieces in this first book because it’s here that Stanley is able to spook the normally blase Nancy. Nancy ultimately exits the Oona Goosepimple stories even more confused and dizzy than when she enters them, a fun state to watch our title character.
Stanley also avoids making Nancy ever saccharine or saintly; she’s anything but that, as it turns out. Her Aunt Fritzi seems continually exasperated with Nancy’s antics, regularly exiling her from the house in order to get some peace and quiet. While Nancy means well much of time, she’s still a child and Stanley occasionally puts a devilish streak into Nancy at which point you just need to back slowly away. Nancy is as much demon as she is angel, here, and it’s that mixture that helps keep the book fresh.
The art in Nancy was created with layouts from Stanley and finishes from Dan Gormley. It’s a nice, simple final look; I’ve heard artists over the years talk about the iconic look of Nancy, and you can see that in these drawings. With her perfectly spherical hair and full cheeks, she’s adorable looking and impish. Comparing her to the sophisticated look of Aunt Fritzi, or the slightly gaunt Oona Goosepimple, and you can see how carefully crafted Nancy and her friends are from Stanley and Gormley. A lot of the jokes depend on sight gags, and the pair keep everything moving swiftly and easy to follow.
The pages of Nancy are printed in a slightly faded, old-comic look; at first I was a little surprised that they weren’t crisp and white, but by the end of the book I found myself liking the old, archived feel of the book. In general I’m impressed with the presentation of Nancy Vol. 1: The John Stanley Library. Seth created an iconic cover illustration of Nancy with the simplest of lines, and the end papers are just beautiful. Be warned if you buy one volume of Nancy, you’ll quickly want to buy more. And as for the Bushmiller original Nancy comic strips? It turns out collections of them start in 2011. I’ve got a lot of Nancy ahead of me.