Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 153 (7/6) -- Nancy, Vol. 1 by John Stanley (and Dan Gormley)

I don't know if we're as passionate and bifurcated as sparkly-vampire readers, but when it comes to Nancy there's definitely Team Bushmiller and Team Stanley. I, of course, am firmly on Team Bushmiller, as all right-thinking comics aficionados must be -- how can comics get any more precise than Bushmiller's line, or more iconic than The Three Rocks, or more highly engineered than his too-simple-not-to-read gags? Bushmiller was the newspaper gag-a-day strip burned down to its essence: austere, immediate, perfect.

And, yes, sure, that guy John Stanley wrote some decent mid-century humor comic books with more-or-less the same characters,too. But the difference between the two is incredibly stark, to my mind: Bushmiller was an auteur in his field, crafting little Zen masterpieces of humor. Stanley was a decent writer of comics for kids, somewhat better than the run of the mill at the time but nowhere near the level of a Carl Barks or a Walt Kelly.

Close to a month ago, I read the two (to date) collections of Stanley's mid-'60s Melvin Monster comic -- my review of those will appear in the October issue of Realms of Fantasy, so I'll say the bare minimum about them here -- and wasn't overly impressed. But Drawn & Quarterly is in the middle of a big series reprinting Stanley's work, so I figured I should give him another chance, and took a look at this first volume reprinting his work on the Nancy comic book in the mid-'50s. (This book contains all of the stories from issues 146-150 of the series, from 1957-58, without covers but with the pages all reproduced age-faded, like we're reading them in Grandma's attic -- in the usual artsy-presentation-of-old-mass-market-material style.)

The stories here are gently humorous, in a typically '50s style -- there are burglars and eerie little girls, but all is tamed and ritualized into the comics equivalent of comfort food. It's all material designed to be inoffensive to Greatest Generation parents but still palatable to their Boomer kids, and it never reaches above that level: pleasant, inoffensive, mildly funny in the way that everything it is, it is mildly.

I still don't see why Stanley is worthy of such fancy, gorgeous reprint collections -- though they're priced very reasonably; this one is only $24.95 -- unless one assumes a serious line in Nancy nostalgia from Boomers. (Or, to be kinder, that Team Stanley have their own arguments for their guy's merits, and I'm blind to those arguments and merits.) If you like Nancy, and you prefer her in longer comic-book stories, this will be an excellent book. But if Bushmiller's Nancy is the one you like best, it won't quite stand up, in comparison.
Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index
Listening to: A Camp - Here Are Many Wild Animals
via FoxyTunes

1 comment:

Tom Devlin said...


You're setting up a false dichotomy in your Team Stanley and Team Bushmiller debate. I don't know anymore who is arguing this. I would say that all comics aficionados largely agree on Bushmiller's genius and many on Stanley's. The common view is that Stanley's Nancy is less Nancy than it is Lulu in Nancy drag and that's fair enough.

Does Stanley deserve this lavish treatment? Well, obviously I am inclined the say "yes." In fact, I think Stanley is the auteur in this argument. He has a large body of work that is surprisingly personal and distinct. He was a work-a-day writer but his work was never knocked out carelessly. Now, as far as what is his best work and what is his lesser work, there are many schools. LULU is very much considered his greatest prolonged work and many folks consider THIRTEEN to be his late period masterpiece. If you haven't read THIRTEEN yet, I highly recommend it. I think in those stories you will see the certain glimmer that you aren't finding in NANCY and MELVIN.

Finally, I say this a lot but I feel like I need to say it again--these collections are made for kids. These are children's comics--they were back then and they are now. Certainly there is something to be found in Stanley's work for aficionados of the form but first and foremost these are the funniest comics any kid will ever read--and that includes the comics by Carl Barks and Walt Kelly (gauntlet thrown.)

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