Claire Burrows: Nancy by John Stanley

Posted by on March 5th, 2010 at 9:00 AM

Drawn & Quarterly; 152 pp.; $24.95; Hardcover

Drawn & Quarterly’s compilation of the John Stanley-penned Nancy comic books are simply enjoyable, delivering, as the Dell Comics stamps promised, “clean and wholesome entertainment” and a classic minimalist cartooning style conjoined with Stanley’s clever writing and humorous narrative.

Stanley is most known for his work on Marjorie Henderson Buell’s strip Little Lulu, but he’s also beloved by fans for his Thirteen (Going on Eighteen), and Melvin Monster. After a formidable career in humorous comics, with a brief foray into horror comics, Stanley left the industry in the late ’60s.

Ernie Bushmiller created Nancy in 1938, based on the niece in Fritzi Ritz, a daily flapper strip featuring pinup-worthy Aunt Fritzi. In the ’40s, Dell Comics began publishing the strips in comic book issues.

Nancy is part of D&Q’s John Stanley Library, which also includes collections of Melvin Monster and Thirteen. Under an Art Deco-style cover designed by Seth, this hardcover edition collects issues #146-150, printed from 1957-’58 on thick matte pages that are yellowed like the pulp comics of yore. In 2009, Dark Horse Books released a complete run of Little Lulu comics, but those paperback editions don’t have the aesthetic appeal of D&Q’s Nancy.

I would have loved an introductory essay, but if you’re looking for a pure experience of reading old comics — and never mind the analytical rhetoric or historical context — this delivers. This is a fascinating world of children with few adults. Fritzi is a single woman, with an occasional boyfriend, who looks after brillo-headed Nancy. Nancy’s biggest admirer, Sluggo, apparently never goes to school and lives alone in a dilapidated house. One of the most interesting, though less remembered, characters is Stanley-created Oona Goosebumps, a precursor to Comic Debris’ Emily the Strange and Addams Family’s Wednesday. Rounding out the cast is Rollo, a ridiculously rich boy. With a full range of economic and social classes, Nancy looks to the practical middle class for balance. Stanley’s stories rely on the eventual return home, to a hot meal and glass of milk, and perhaps a stern scolding.

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One Response to “Claire Burrows: Nancy by John Stanley”

  1. Mike Hunter says:

    A striking cover design, but makes me think of…