Nancy. Art: Ernie Bushmiller.


Original Medium: Newspaper comics
Distributed by: United Feature Syndicate
First Appeared: 1933
Creator: Ernie Bushmiller
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Like Snuffy Smith, Captain Easy, Steve Roper and many other comics stars, Nancy started out as a bit player and wound up taking over the …

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… series. Fritzi Ritz was a typical 1920s strip about a pretty girl, in the tradition of Cliff Sterrett's Positive Polly and Martin Branner's Winnie Winkle. It was created in 1922 by cartoonist Larry Whittington, and taken over in 1925 by 20-year-old Ernie Bushmiller. (Bushmiller's later claim of having created Fritzi is absolutely false.) Bushmiller's bold, clear art style, combined with his ability to construct a type of gag that appealed to a very broad audience, brought the strip to new heights of popularity — and his introduction of Fritzi's niece, Nancy, in 1933, carried it higher yet.

Two important developments occurred in 1938. Sluggo Smith, Nancy's friend from the "wrong side of the tracks", was introduced in January; and later that year, Aunt Fritzi's name was dropped from the title of the daily strip, which continued as Nancy. At the same time, Bushmiller's Sunday page underwent a similar change. Formerly, half of it had been devoted to Fritzi and the other half to her boyfriend, Phil Fumble. Phil's half was taken over by Nancy. Years later, when newspaper space became tighter and cartoonists were no longer allowed whole pages to themselves, Fritzi's half disappeared, and the transformation was complete. Fritzi Ritz was a bit player where she had formerly been the star.

In 1936, United Feature Syndicate (Terr'ble Thompson, Drago) which distributed the strip, launched Tip Top Comics, where Fritzi's and Nancy's strips were reprinted alongside Li'l Abner, Ella Cinders, The Captain & the Kids, and other United Feature stars. Through two changes of publisher (to St. John in 1955 and Dell in 1957), the title lasted until 1961. United's Sparkler Comics, which started in 1940, had a similar line-up and publishing history — but there, when St. John took over the publishing, most of the features were dropped and the title was changed to Nancy & Sluggo. Fritzi, Nancy and Phil also appeared in United Comics during the early 1950s.

When Dell took over the Nancy & Sluggo title, they assigned it to cartoonist John Stanley, whose decades of work on Little Lulu is highly regarded by today's comics aficionados. During Stanley's tenure, which lasted until the early 1960s, two characters were introduced — Sluggo's crabby neighbor, Mr. McOnion; and the little girl who lives in a haunted house, Oona Goosepimple. Oona, in particular, proved a memorable addition to the cast, despite the fact that neither she nor McOnion ever appeared outside of Stanley's comics. Nancy & Sluggo was discontinued in 1963, and Nancy never again appeared in comic books.

Nancy had two very brief and undistinguished careers as an animated character. In 1942, she became the only outside character ever licensed by Terrytoons, the studio that produced Mighty Mouse and Heckle & Jeckle. Only two cartoons came out, and they're virtually forgotten today. And in 1971, an Archie TV show used Nancy in one of its segments — rotating with The Captain & the Kids, Broom-Hilda, Smokey Stover, and other comic strip characters. These cartoons were reprised in 1978, under the title Fabulous Funnies.

Nancy's only recent foray outside of newspaper strips was onto a U.S. postage stamp. In 1995, she, along with The Katzenjammer Kids, Prince Valiant, Brenda Starr and several others, was part of the "Comic Strip Classics" series of commemoratives.

Toward the end of his life, Bushmiller relied more and more on his assistants, Al Plastino (best known for his work on Superman in the 1950s and '60s, and for ghosting Ferd'nand in the '70s and '80s) and Will Johnson. He died in 1982, and the strip was taken over by Mark Lansky. Lansky died in 1983, and Jerry Scott became Nancy's writer/artist. Scott completely revamped the strip, giving it both a more modern look and a sassier brand of humor. This seems not to have been very popular with the readers. When he left in 1995 to concentrate on Baby Blues (which he does with Rick Kirkman) and Zits (which he does with Jim Borgman), the new team, Guy and Brad Gilchrist, drew their inspiration straight from Bushmiller — even to the point of re-using many of the earlier cartoonist's gags.

Although a few modern cartoonists, such as Art Spiegelman (Maus) and Bill Griffith (Zippy the Pinhead), cite Bushmiller's iconic style and communicative abilities as an inspiration — and although he did win the 1976 Reuben Award — Nancy's creator has enjoyed very little critical acclaim. But his work has always been immensely popular with the general public.


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