Sun-Times comics editor Chris Ledbetter told me, “Response (to the removal) has been very small, but a few were passionate.”
Hmf. Well. I used to work with Chris Ledbetter. (And is her title really “comics editor”? It can’t be.) I wonder if she’d be so la-dee-da if there were a strip called “Chris” that was tied to her earliest newspaper-reading experiences, and had been a lifelong blessing and curse.
Everyone knows that if you want readers, you have to put their names in the paper, and my earliest memories of getting ink on my fingers are of opening the Columbus Citizen-Journal and reading the day’s “Nancy” strip. That Nancy was almost aggressively homely, had an even uglier boyfriend and seemed incapable of getting a decent punchline going didn’t grieve me until later. But by then I was hooked.
Finding one’s name in pop culture probably isn’t a big deal with kids today; with so many one-off names, it’s harder to find another person, let alone a famous one, who shares your own. But when I was growing up, it bugged me that I wasn’t named, oh, Sally (of the Mustang), or La-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-Linda (“when I go to sleep, I never count sheep, I could all the charms about,” etc.), or Jenny (whom Mitch Ryder begged to take a ride with). There was a Nancy in “Rocky Racoon,” and Frank Sinatra’s Nancy with the laughing face, but Sinatra wasn’t on the pop charts any more.
But I had Nancy on the comics page. Nancy in her strange town, with its lollipop trees and oddly vacant streets. A columnist once called this place Minimalism Lane, and that’s exactly right. Dave Barry called Nancy “a continuing Soviet experiment in the development of a joke,” and that’s right. Nancy was unbearably corny, impossibly stupid. I got fed up one day and expressed by displeasure at the breakfast table. My mother explained that Nancy was a strip for “children just starting to read,” and I should lighten up.
Since then I’ve come to appreciate Nancy. So have lots of other people, and as usual, the Wikipedia roundup is the best place to start. Here’s the story of Nancy’s tragic detour, when another artist drew her in this horrible freehand; her cool Afro, which used to be so precise it could be plotted on a grid, went all over the place and Nancy lovers everywhere cringed. That site also includes Confessions of a Nancy addict, a nice introduction to the cult.
When Alan and I got married, the Features department took us out for drinks and gifts. One was “Everything I Need to Know I Learned from Nancy: The Enduring Wisdom of Ernie Bushmiller.” Chris Ledbetter was at that party! How soon we forget.