Bookgasm dubs NANCY: VOLUME 1 'pure pleasure'

“Nancy, Volume 1: The John Stanley Library” / Bookgasm / Rod Lott / February 2, 2009

All hail Nancy! Ernie Bushmiller’s creation had her heyday on the funny pages, but it was her comic-book misadventures that ingratiated the character to me. Thus, Drawn & Quaterly’s NANCY, VOLUME 1: THE JOHN STANLEY LIBRARY is pure pleasure.

“But, wait,” you ask, “who’s this Stanley character? You said Bushmiller!” I answer: Stanley scripted the comics for Bushmiller, who kept at it in the newspapers. The resulting Dell comic ran for several years in the 1950s, with five complete issues comprising this hardcover collection. All that’s missing, sadly, are reproductions of the covers.

Happily, everything else rules. In the strip, Nancy always struck me as — I’ll be blunt — kind of a bitch. In the comics, Stanley gets to tell stories, whereas Bushmiller had to settle for telling jokes. With pages instead of mere panels, the character is developed. She’s likable, even lovable, and any mischief comes from misplaced intentions, rather than malicious intent.

As a slightly chubby, not-so-cute girl, Nancy’s obviously not the most popular kid in school. She lives with her hot aunt, Fritzi, and her so-to-speak sidekick is Sluggo, a bald kid who’s so poor, he lives in a shack whose walls aren’t completely enclosed. It’s more than a little surprising to see a character like this in a children’s humor comic, who skips school because he’s ashamed of his clothes, and is so hungry, he’ll take a bite out of a book.

In the first story, we’re introduced to a new character, Oona Goosepimple, who looks a little like Wednesday Addams and, appropriately enough, lives in a spooky, backwards house with monstrous family members. It’s a strange element that never would’ve worked for the strip, but plays out well here, sowing the seeds for Stanley’s later work on MELVIN MONSTER.

Another highlight finds Nancy trying to luck into some money to go to the movies. Her lack of funds is a recurring theme in the stories, as is her efforts to weasel out of doing chores. Sluggo also gets his share of the spotlight, too, inadverently outsmarting a burglar and becoming a de facto bank president.

One unintentional creepy moment arrives when Nancy is mistaken for a TV personality, and a boy asks her, “Can I touch you, Nancy? For a penny?” But all the other laughs in the book are on purpose, and if you doubt Stanley’s gift for timing, check out the story about the stray cat. Artist Dan Gormley rises to the challenge when the tabby goes into attack mode; I dare you not to smile.

As with D&Q’s MELVIN MONSTER collection from Stanley, the covers and endpapers have been designed, exquisitely, by Seth. It’s not that this treasure needed to be any more special, but I’ll take it.

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