Ernie Bushmiller rolls in his grave.

Eric Zorn brings us the bad news: Yet another paper — the Chicago Sun-Times — is dropping “Nancy,” the comic strip.

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.

Posted at 9:42 pm in Uncategorized |

24 responses to “Ernie Bushmiller rolls in his grave.”

  1. Lance Mannion said on July 18, 2005 at 11:53 pm

    Your mother was a wise woman, Nance. We were just talking about this tonight—how some of what grown ups think of as the dumbest and unfunniest strips are favorites with our kids. Beetle Bailey, Blondie, Marmaduke, Family Circus. Features editors deciding which strips to dump and which to keep often worry about the little old ladies and little old men who have been longtime readers and may be upset to see their favorites go. But they should also worry about the little kids, future newspaper subscribers, whose first introduction to the daily rag is through the funny pages.

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  2. mary said on July 19, 2005 at 1:46 am

    Very early in the run of Saturday Night Live, they used to have little graphic jokes onscreen going into commercials. One was a list of things more intelligent than Ernie Bushmiller. I think Flipper and Mr. Ed were on it.

    Nancy was incredibly unfunny. Even as a kid I thought so. Blondie on the other hand, back about forty five years ago, had some good drawing going on. I was pretty fond of the Dagwood colliding with people panels. Family Circus is not only unfunny, it’s weird. The grandpa ghost is really disturbing.

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  3. Mindy said on July 19, 2005 at 7:25 am

    Your mother was exactly right. When I was a small child, Nancy made me happy because I could read it so quickly. The other strips were busier and funny but took longer to ingest.

    Twenty years ago I lived in Colorado Springs where the Gazette-Telegraph added comic strips rather than cancel them. Two and a half pages of comics were in the daily paper with more on the editorial page. This should be the norm everywhere.

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  4. John said on July 19, 2005 at 7:58 am

    Aunt Fritzi was drawn for years looking around the corner of the room. You never saw a full body shot. Then (starting about 10+ years ago), she was drawn in the room wearing dressing gowns and night clothing. Truly weird…

    Mary, the Family Circus grandpa is supposed to be an angel, not a ghost, but is still creepy. Ida Know and Not Me are the two ghosts in that strip.

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  5. Nance said on July 19, 2005 at 9:05 am

    The Detroit papers just went to the smaller web — shop talk for the new, miniature-newspaper format — and the comics have, alas, shrunk yet again. My new favorite strips are the “talky” ones, like “For Better or For Worse,” and now I have to take off my glasses and get nose-to-nose with the page to read it.

    Good thing I’m not farsighted.

    I’m consistently amazed at how many editors don’t read the comics. At! All! (This includes my husband, but, as he points out, he has me to do that for him.) While occasionally this works to our advantage — Lance’s wife, The Blonde, once handed me a column on a silver platter based on her encyclopedic knowledge of the funnies, a story I’ll tell some other time — it always strikes me as disrespectful of readers. You ought to read at least a couple.

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  6. Dorothy said on July 19, 2005 at 9:24 am

    We really miss Doonsebury in our household. But currently Zits and Baby Blues are favorites. We also love how the characters age and develop in For Better or For Worse. It’s realistic in a way other strips are not, but still entertaining.

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  7. Sam McCabe said on July 19, 2005 at 9:55 am

    Read Nancy every day here:

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  8. Eric Zorn said on July 19, 2005 at 10:23 am

    >>>>Read Nancy every day here:

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  9. alex said on July 19, 2005 at 10:24 am


    I remember Adrienne Barbeau was on that list on Saturday Night Live–along with Ernie Bushmiller–but it was a list of people with an IQ lower than that of a dolphin.

    That really dates me. When I was an Alex growing up I was the only Alex. Five Davids in my class from K through 6, but not another Alex anywhere in the school district, or perhaps even the county. Then through the magic of soap operas and Michael J. Fox and other pop cultural detritus it became the name of every other child in America.

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  10. mary said on July 19, 2005 at 10:46 am


    Yes! That’s it. At that point in my life I had a few friends around the country who would compare notes about how lame that day’s Nancy was. We also used to compare notes about Katherine Kuhlman, televangelist. I never figured out her appeal either.

    For Better or Worse is a good comic. It can be sweet without being icky, and I like the aging of the characters too. Sorry about mistaking grandpa in Family Circus for a ghost. Whatever he is, his inclusion is strange.

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  11. Dorothy said on July 19, 2005 at 10:52 am

    Maybe I’m weird, but I think having the Grandpa in Family Circus is a sweet way to remind young readers that even though they may have had a grandparent die, the spirit of them is still around them. My mother-in-law died when my daughter was 13 months old, and my son was born a year later. We would tell them on occasion that their Grandma Ginna was watching them from heaven (we hope!) and was enjoying watching them grow into such good people. I don’t think there’s anything creepy about that, do you?

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  12. mary said on July 19, 2005 at 11:12 am

    Not at all, Dorothy. Now if you drew pictures of them wearing nightgowns and fluttering around the garage, that would be creepy.

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  13. Dorothy said on July 19, 2005 at 11:19 am

    Agreed! My mother in law could not have fluttered anywhere, living OR dead. God rest her soul.

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  14. mary said on July 19, 2005 at 11:44 am

    I often tell my kids about their late grandparents. Sadly, only one grandparent is still around, and he’s not very interested in them. Since he is a very strange person, that’s actually OK. (He thinks aliens visit him in the night and take body fluid samples.) Luckily I have three older brothers, two of whom are grandparents themselves, who fill something like a grandparent role, that being spoiling them a bit, teaching them how to fish etc.

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  15. Nance said on July 19, 2005 at 11:52 am

    The Family Circus is one of those strips like “BC,” drawn by an overt and not-very-subtle Christian who is always witnessing the faith through his work. Angel Gramps is only one example. I used to keep one over my desk that featured Billy with his arm around a sad-faced friend, asking a teacher if the prayer-in-school rule could be suspended long enough for the friend to say one for his grandmother, who is sick. Hmm.

    Actually, I loved the Dysfunctional Family Circus, which invited people to submit their own captions for random cartoons. You had to wade through about 10 stinkers to get to a good line, but some of them were priceless.

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  16. Nance said on July 19, 2005 at 12:00 pm

    Forgot to mention the Dysfunctional Family Circus was shut down by lawyerly cease-and-desist orders. But it would seem the Keane spoofers are at work yet again. Read the reader comments here and here:

    Keane, much like fellow southerner Elvis Presley, interprets his literary and illustrator predecessors in a way that re-energizes and revolutionizes the comic panel form. Whereas Presley combined the reved-up blues of Arthur Crudup with the solemn harmonies of the Jordanaires into two minute-50 second explosions of sound that challenged the staid conformity of the Eisenhower years, Keane likewise blends the relationship dramas of a Tennessee Williams with the drawn simplicity of Mark Trail’s Dodd and Elrod to create poignant one-panel drawings of post modern takes on family relationships and late 20th Century suburban life. While Presley was changing the way we relate to and experience popular music, Keane was forever altering the daily comic strip. As Elvis Presley’s “Sun Sessions” graces your CD case, Keane’s “What Does This Say” deserves an honored location on your book case.

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  17. mrs. norman maine said on July 19, 2005 at 1:58 pm

    I hate to name drop, but this kind of coincidence never happens to me: I just went to the restaurant a few doors down from my office, and while bringing my take-out back with me, ran into the guy who draws “Nancy” and stood chatting with him for a few minutes outside his place (which has several large posters of Nancy in the window).

    Then I came back to my computer, checked in with Nancy (the blog, not the column), and saw this entry.

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  18. Nance said on July 19, 2005 at 2:32 pm

    Can you get me an autograph?

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  19. mrs. norman maine said on July 19, 2005 at 3:17 pm

    Seriously? I’m going into his “cartoonists’ academy” (you should see the uniforms!) tomorrow, so if you want a signed Nancy poster, I’m sure he’d be more than happy to oblige.

    I already have one, but it’s on a copy of his “Your Angles Speak” comic book, but that’s a whole ‘nother kettle of fish.

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  20. Nance said on July 19, 2005 at 3:34 pm

    I’d love one.

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  21. mrs. norman maine said on July 19, 2005 at 3:39 pm

    I’m on it, chief.

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  22. mary said on July 19, 2005 at 8:00 pm

    I took a look at the Nancy website, and was clicking through previous installments of the strip. On June 25, it’s the usual unfunny stuff, but jeez, is that Aunt Fritzi? I haven’t read Nancy in years. When did Aunt Fritzi start looking like a hooker?

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  23. Eric Zorn said on July 19, 2005 at 9:56 pm

    Hey! My comment got cut off! What I meant to say — what I typed — was that you can read Nancy every day at the url, but why would you want to. But it was funnier than that. Much, much funnier. Only now my bon mot is lost forever.

    Hey, does anyone know if Andy Capp is still beating his wife?

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  24. kirk said on July 20, 2005 at 9:53 am

    does anyone remember oona goosepimple, nancy’s wraith-like friend who lived underground or in a haunted house? don’t think i ever saw her in the strip, but she was in some nancy comic books i read as a kid. the story lines were a little more involved than the daily strips.

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