Riverdale Book Review

World of Archie Comics Digest #43 (Nov. 2014). With all the hubbub about the gory Afterlife With Archie and the forthcoming, apparently equally “mature” Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, few are noticing that the standard-issue Archie Digests haven’t been pushing any boundaries of sex, violence or bad taste at all. The new story in this issue—a few years ago, the Archie digest format went from all-reprints to having a brand-new story or two as well—is as tame and old-school as comics get. Talking animals!

Rock Gods #296: Adventures in Our Little Music Scene

Ornaments adorned the Bullfinch stage when Hillbilly’s Angels and 16 Cylinders Inside a Jalopy held their holiday spectacle there Thursday night. Naturally, these glass trinkets, culled from church tag sales the previous weekend, became a horrible hazard to both bands and audiences. Guitarist G.G. cut her toe mistaking one of the figurines for a foot pedal. Others got willfully kicked off the platform by bassist Bink. In the crowd, they got thrown about, resulting in the strongest disciplinary measure known in any small club—the houselights went on. The star of Bethlehem could not have shone more brightly.

There’s now a sign above the bar demanding that no Christmas ornaments or creche pieces are allowed onstage. No room at the inn.

Tonight: Gigi’s solo project, Girl in Glass, is at the new Pilgrimage Coffee House near Church Street. … Death Alley brings the darkness, and the merch tables, to D’ollaire’s. … The Spinning Song folk ensemble plays a family reunion/class reunion thing at Hamilton’s…

A Place With the Pigs

Nancy Loves Sluggo

By Ernie Bushmiller

Introduction by Ivan Brunetti

Fantagraphics, 2014


Nancy connoisseurs know all about the three rocks. They are the icon of suburban outdoorsiness in Ernie Bushmiller’s famed mainstream comic strip about an impetuous little girl with a horizontal black line for a nose.

The three rocks have been exalted and elaborated upon by such celebrated modern cartoonists and graphic analysts as Bill Griffith (Zippy the Pinhead), Scott (Understanding Comics) McCloud, Mark (We All Die Alone) Newgarden, Art (Maus) Spiegelman and current Nancy cartoonist Guy Gilchrist (who avers that Nancy’s hometown is Three Rocks, Tennessee).

Ivan Brunetti, who once submitted samples for consideration as a Nancy writer/artist and who created the two-volume Anthology of Graphic Fiction, Cartoons, and True Stories for Yale Press, doesn’t mention the three rocks in his introduction to the just-released third volume of collected Bushmiller Nancy strips, Nancy Loves Sluggo. What he does mention, regarding his brief failed attempt to take over Nancy, is “how much I loved drawing Sluggo (and especially his decrepit house).”

There are precious few three-rocks arrangements in Nancy Loves Sluggo, which includes all the daily Nancy strips from 1949 through 1951. Bushmiller would do Nancy until 1982, and the golden age of the three rocks was probably the 1970s.

What Nancy Loves Sluggo does have is a couple of strips showing the consistency with which Ernie Bushmiller rendered Sluggo’s backyard.

On Jan. 5, 1949, Nancy berates Sluggo for not washing his window. “I like it dis way,” the stubble-headed hobo child retorts.

“But you can’t see out,” Nancy insists.

“Who’d want to?,” Sluggo exclaims, throwing open the window to reveal factory smokestacks, a vista-blocking silo, a slew of discarded cans and papers, and a pig wallowing in a mud puddle.

A year later, on Jan. 25, 1950, Sluggo is elated. “Hey Nancy—one of my chicks just hatched. Wonder what he thinks he first looks around.”

Nancy: “How much better the view was inside.”

And there’s the yard again. Same silo, same cans and bottles and paper, same tired pig in the same dark puddle. There are a few changes—instead of a factory, there’s an abandoned house, and the yard is bordered by a delapidated picket fence and a wooden keg full of trash. But Sluggo’s environment is secure. Here’s a boy whose home is so wretched a pig is happy to stay there too.

Bushmiller is renowned as a gag artist. Every panel, it would seem, is created to serve the punchline of that single day’s strip. Yet, reading Nancy in order, you realize how much continuity, how much character development, how much serialization actually exists in the quick-joke Nancy universe. This latest volume contains over a week of strips when Sluggo gains weight, a separate long sequence when Nancy moons over a movie star, and another bunch of strips when a Spanish girl moves to town. There are the abstractions, obsessions and comic exaggerations we associate with classic Nancy, but there are also reasons to appreciate the strip in grand lumps and not just in bite-sized daily single-joke servings.

The Nancy books from Fantagraphics—Nancy is Happy, Nancy Loves Christmas and now Nancy Loves Sluggo—are an incredible resource for Bushmiller devotees. Kitchen Sink Press put out some cherished thematic collections of Nancy strips back (Nancy Eats Food; Bums, Beatniks and Hippies; Nancy’s Pets; Dreams and Schemes; How Sluggo Survives!) back in the ‘80s, around the same time that comics historian Brian Walker published the exceptional anthology/biography The Best of Ernie Bushmiller’s Nancy. But until now there has not been a comprehensive grouping of all the daily Nancys, where you can trace the rocks, pinpoint the pigs and admire the hairbowed breadth of it all.