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#1
Old 01-05-2006, 11:51 AM
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Explain the comic strip Nancy to me

As my username would indicate, I'm a fan of the old time comic strips.

I'll admit from the start that I've never gotten the appeal of Krazy Kat - okay, I understand that many people think George Herriman was a genius, but I'm sorry I just don't get it. Let's move on.

The other mystery to me is Nancy - I heard enough people say that Ernie Bushmiller's Nancy is brilliant to know that there must be something to it. But I don't see it. It may be because I haven't read very many old Bushmiller strips. But I used to read it back in the seventies and I never felt like Nancy was anything special. Did Bushmiller maybe peak back in the forties and fifties and coast in his later years? Can somebody explain to me what I was missing?
#2
Old 01-05-2006, 11:57 AM
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I don't know many people who will seriously argue that Nancy was brilliant. Maybe ironically (it was especially dire as it aged and was as much of a punchline for a bad comic strip that The Family Circle is today).

The early Nancy strips were decent, but no more than average than the strips of its day. As time went on, it became notorious as a collection of trite bad jokes surfing on it's older popularity.

A few artists (including some good ones) have cited Nancy's straightforward style as an inspiration, but I don't think anyone really thinks it was much more than minor strip, always outclassed by any of a dozen strips at any time in its history.
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#3
Old 01-05-2006, 11:59 AM
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The strip was originally about Aunt Fritzi and was called Fritzi Ritz. Nancy, originally a supporting character, gradually became the focus of the strip. Juvenile hijinks were getting bigger laffs than the travails of a flapper, one supposes. As for what you are missing, I couldn't say. I've read the old strips in reprint and they are pretty bland fare. FTR, I never "got" Krazy Kat either.
#4
Old 01-05-2006, 12:02 PM
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I can't help you there. I remember Nancy in the '60s and '70s, and it was universally reviled as the dumbest comic strip ever, even dumber than Family Circus (which at least had some thought put into it, even if it was trite). Nancy was just braindead.

The 1st edition of the American Heritage Dictionary chose a Nancy strip as the margin illustration for the entry "comic strip." It showed Nancy finding "Talking Dolls" in a store for only $1, she gets happy and buys one. The box says "Made in Japan." When she takes the doll out, its words in the word-balloon are written in an obviously phony attempt at counterfeiting Japanese kanji characters (and everyone knows that Japanese is written in a blend of three scripts: kanji, hiragana, and katakana.

I'm appalled at the casually racist cultural ignorance that once used to be accepted as normal. Ernie Bushmiller was too lazy to drag his fat butt to the library or bookstore and find some examples of real Japanese writing?
#5
Old 01-05-2006, 01:21 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Johanna
I'm appalled at the casually racist cultural ignorance that once used to be accepted as normal. Ernie Bushmiller was too lazy to drag his fat butt to the library or bookstore and find some examples of real Japanese writing?
There was certainly plenty of casual racism in "th' old days," and comics (strips and books) were full of it. But if the strip in question was written in the '50's or even '60's, I think it'd take an awful lot more effort than you imagine to get it right. Now whether that's an excuse or not is up to you.

Anyway, I think I too have heard people express admiration for Bushmiller's lines less than his words.

--Cliffy
#6
Old 01-05-2006, 01:51 PM
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The strip does seem to have attracted some highbrow attention at times. Back in 1989, Kitchen Sink Press came out with a series of thematic Nancy collections with titles like Nancy Eats Food. I once read an ad for it which praised the strip's "minimalism." No telling if it was ironic or not.

[the simpsons]

GENXER 1: That Homer Simpson is so cool!

GENXER 2: Are you being sarcastic, man?

GENXER 1: [pause] I don't even know any more.

[/ts]

Apart from that, what can you say? Some folks just liked it. How else did it remain in syndication so long? From Don Markstein's Toonopedia -- http://toonopedia.com/nancy.htm:

Quote:
Fritzi Ritz was a typical 1920s strip about a pretty girl, in the tradition of Cliff Sterrett's Positive Polly and Martin Branner's Winnie Winkle. It was created in 1922 by cartoonist Larry Whittington, and taken over in 1925 by 20-year-old Ernie Bushmiller. (Bushmiller's later claim of having created Fritzi is absolutely false.) Bushmiller's bold, clear art style, combined with his ability to construct a type of gag that appealed to a very broad audience, brought the strip to new heights of popularity and his introduction of Fritzi's niece, Nancy, in 1933, carried it higher yet.

<snip>

Toward the end of his life, Bushmiller relied more and more on his assistants, Al Plastino (best known for his work on Superman in the 1950s and '60s, and for ghosting Ferd'nand in the '70s and '80s) and Will Johnson. He died in 1982, and the strip was taken over by Mark Lansky. Lansky died in 1983, and Jerry Scott became Nancy's writer/artist. Scott completely revamped the strip, giving it both a more modern look and a sassier brand of humor. This seems not to have been very popular with the readers. When he left in 1995 to concentrate on Baby Blues (which he does with Rick Kirkman), the new team, Guy and Brad Gilchrist, drew their inspiration straight from Bushmiller even to the point of re-using many of the earlier cartoonist's gags.

Although a few modern cartoonists, such as Art Spiegelman (Maus) and Bill Griffith (Zippy the Pinhead), cite Bushmiller's iconic style and communicative abilities as an inspiration and although he did win the 1976 Reuben Award Nancy's creator has enjoyed very little critical acclaim. But his work has always been immensely popular with the general public.
BTW, check out the hilariously surreal "Raising Nancies" story by underground cartoonist Howard Cruse: http://howardcruse.com/comicsvault/nancies/
#7
Old 01-05-2006, 01:53 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cliffy
There was certainly plenty of casual racism in "th' old days," and comics (strips and books) were full of it. But if the strip in question was written in the '50's or even '60's, I think it'd take an awful lot more effort than you imagine to get it right. Now whether that's an excuse or not is up to you.
There was no need to "get it right." All Bushmiller was doing was make the reader understand that the doll was speaking Japanese. The fact that it wasn't an actual Japanese phrase or writing has nothing to do with racism or sloppiness: none of his audience would be idiot enough to complain that it wasn't "accurate" and, frankly, it pretty sad that anyone thinks this is a flaw in that strip.
#8
Old 01-05-2006, 01:55 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Johanna
The 1st edition of the American Heritage Dictionary chose a Nancy strip as the margin illustration for the entry "comic strip." It showed Nancy finding "Talking Dolls" in a store for only $1, she gets happy and buys one. The box says "Made in Japan." When she takes the doll out, its words in the word-balloon are written in an obviously phony attempt at counterfeiting Japanese kanji characters (and everyone knows that Japanese is written in a blend of three scripts: kanji, hiragana, and katakana.

I'm appalled at the casually racist cultural ignorance that once used to be accepted as normal. Ernie Bushmiller was too lazy to drag his fat butt to the library or bookstore and find some examples of real Japanese writing?
So? I remember a Garfield strip where Garfield is playing with the telephone and Jon is chuckling over how cute it is. In the next panel you see a word-balloon full of Chinese-looking characters come out of the receiver while Garfield wears a self-satisfied smirk (like, "Just wait for your next phone bill, Jon!") If those are real characters from Chinese or any other language I would be very surprised. How would that be an example of anti-Sinicism? It's an established cartoon convention that you can represent foreigners' speech/writing with any kind of random gibberish.
#9
Old 01-05-2006, 02:02 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RealityChuck
There was no need to "get it right." All Bushmiller was doing was make the reader understand that the doll was speaking Japanese. The fact that it wasn't an actual Japanese phrase or writing has nothing to do with racism or sloppiness: none of his audience would be idiot enough to complain that it wasn't "accurate" and, frankly, it pretty sad that anyone thinks this is a flaw in that strip.
I don't think it's a big deal, but I'm not convinced. It seems to me analagous to someone aping chinese by saying (god forgive me) "ching chong chong chin chong." If the joke were about a doll made in France (yes, I recognize that the socioeconomic history of the 20th century wouldn't gestate such a gag, but bear with me), would you expect Bushmiller to have just put in a bunch of random letters with accent marks? I doubt it.

--Cliffy
#10
Old 01-05-2006, 02:31 PM
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I saw a Japanese cartoon a few years back in which written English was represented as a mix of vertical lines and little circles, vaguely like this:

|lI0dOp||


I wasn't offended.
#11
Old 01-05-2006, 02:35 PM
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I always was annoyed by Nancy's hair.
#12
Old 01-05-2006, 03:33 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AHunter3
I saw a Japanese cartoon a few years back in which written English was represented as a mix of vertical lines and little circles, vaguely like this:

|lI0dOp||


I wasn't offended.
You sure that's not Martian?
#13
Old 01-05-2006, 03:37 PM
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Nancy and Mutt & Jeff where the 2 comics as a kid in the 70's that I never once found funny.

Snuffy Smith was rarely humorous.

Jim
#14
Old 01-05-2006, 03:45 PM
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I had a friend back in the '60s who swore that he always read Nancy every day because he was afraid he would miss the one time that it was funny.
#15
Old 01-05-2006, 03:49 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MisterThyristor
I had a friend back in the '60s who swore that he always read Nancy every day because he was afraid he would miss the one time that it was funny.
I take it that it is safe to say that this never actually happened?
#16
Old 01-05-2006, 03:52 PM
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The champion of the "Bushmiller was a genius" view is Denis Kitchen, cartoonist and former publisher of Kitchen Sink Comics. In a Comics Journal interview, he explained that Nancy was the comic strip in its purest, least=pretentious form. When you see a tree or a boulder in the background, it's a perfectly generic tree or boulder. The peephole in a wooden fence is the perfectly generic hole in a wooden fence. It's the dumbest of artforms dumbed down to the purest level. And that takes a degree of genius.
#17
Old 01-05-2006, 03:58 PM
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Denis Kitchen discusses Ernie Bushmiller.
#18
Old 01-05-2006, 04:15 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MisterThyristor
I had a friend back in the '60s who swore that he always read Nancy every day because he was afraid he would miss the one time that it was funny.
I read it every day so as not to miss any Fritzi.
::wolf whistle::
#19
Old 01-05-2006, 06:03 PM
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I'm a fan of Bushmiller's "Nancy" but I didn't like the revised versions by the other artists after Bushmiller. I don't think I can explain the appeal. The cartoon was inherently simple, from the the drawing style to the stories. Much of the appeal of "Nancy" was in the sight gags. And with "Nancy" you don't have to be part of a certain demographic to enjoy it or get it. There's a sort of simple timelessness to it, counter to many comics which remain stuck in the time period they represent complete with specific concerns to that time period.

There are quite a few old "Nancy" strips at I Love Comix. A modern strip that I like that owes much of its visual style, and often, the sight gag style to "Nancy" is "Underworld" by Kaz. The nice thing about "Underworld" however it that, unlike "Nancy", it's very jaded and adult-oriented, while still owing much to Bushmiller.
#20
Old 01-05-2006, 06:21 PM
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MisterThyristor wrote:

Quote:
I had a friend back in the '60s who swore that he always read Nancy every day because he was afraid he would miss the one time that it was funny.
I remember the day that Laugh Parade was funny. I wish I'd saved it, because nobody believes me. It went something like this:

Guy walks up to an alien. There's a flying saucer in the background, and the alien has an accoustic guitar. The caption read, "I have a message for the people of earth, and it goes a little something like this..."
#21
Old 01-05-2006, 06:22 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cliffy
If the joke were about a doll made in France (yes, I recognize that the socioeconomic history of the 20th century wouldn't gestate such a gag, but bear with me), would you expect Bushmiller to have just put in a bunch of random letters with accent marks? I doubt it.
Actually, I do find the mock-French in Pepe Le Pew cartoons amusing.
#22
Old 01-05-2006, 07:04 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cliffy
I don't think it's a big deal, but I'm not convinced. It seems to me analagous to someone aping chinese by saying (god forgive me) "ching chong chong chin chong." If the joke were about a doll made in France (yes, I recognize that the socioeconomic history of the 20th century wouldn't gestate such a gag, but bear with me), would you expect Bushmiller to have just put in a bunch of random letters with accent marks? I doubt it.

--Cliffy
I remember a Bloom County strip where Milo and Binkley are taking a White House tour, take a wrong turn, wind up in the Oval Office, and use the special phone to the Kremlin to (I forget what, but they don't know what it is). The perplexed premier says, "Whatski?!" (The actual Russian word for "what" is "chto.") I don't recall any Russians getting mad. (Then again this was the Reagan era, so if they had, who would have care?)
#23
Old 01-05-2006, 07:51 PM
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Cartoonist Scott McCloud has used the timelessness and predictability of Nanacy to creat the gameFive-Card Nancy
#24
Old 01-05-2006, 08:07 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Little Nemo
Explain the comic strip Nancy to me
The Nancy that can be explained is not the true Nancy.
#25
Old 01-05-2006, 08:21 PM
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Nancy: Once you've seen her, you can't un-see her.
#26
Old 01-05-2006, 08:57 PM
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If you meet Nancy on the road, kill her!
#27
Old 01-05-2006, 09:56 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DrFidelius
If you meet Nancy on the road, kill her!
Roadkill Nancy?
#28
Old 01-06-2006, 07:50 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DrFidelius
If you meet Nancy on the road, kill her!
But, Sensei, does Sluggo have the Buddha nature?

The Zen of Nancy
#29
Old 01-06-2006, 09:46 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jrfranchi
Nancy and Mutt & Jeff where the 2 comics as a kid in the 70's that I never once found funny.
Hmm. I wonder what those Mutt & Jeffs were like. Because I've seen a lot of their full-page gags from the '40's, and It hink they're pretty good. Markstein says that Al Smith was the cartoonist on the strip from the '30's to 1980, so presumably the same guy I thought so funny from back in the War years was borng you to tears 30 years later.

--Cliffy
#30
Old 01-06-2006, 10:43 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cliffy
Hmm. I wonder what those Mutt & Jeffs were like. Because I've seen a lot of their full-page gags from the '40's, and It hink they're pretty good. Markstein says that Al Smith was the cartoonist on the strip from the '30's to 1980, so presumably the same guy I thought so funny from back in the War years was borng you to tears 30 years later.

--Cliffy
Well 30 years is a long time, I have never seen the 40's version. It must of been funny at some point is a reasonable guess.

Is it possible that Al Smith either burnt out by the 70's or someone else was really writing the strip and they just kept his name on it?

Jim
#31
Old 01-06-2006, 10:58 AM
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Nancy was funny for years, specifically the years 1983-1995, when Jerry Scott took over and completely retooled the series. I grew up during those years (was born in '82) and held Nancy as a favorite during my elementary school years. I had no idea that the sudden uglification that took over the strip in 1995 was actually as a return to the strip's roots and that the strip had such a nefarious history of being unfunny.
#32
Old 01-06-2006, 11:09 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jrfranchi
Is it possible that Al Smith either burnt out by the 70's or someone else was really writing the strip and they just kept his name on it?
Markstein's pretty good with that stuff. If he said Smith was actually doing the work, I believe it. But you're right, 30 years is a long time to stay funny.

--Cliffy
#33
Old 01-06-2006, 11:09 AM
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I've always thought that Nancy served as an introduction to humor for young people. An early reader is going to be clueless with Dilbert for example, but he's going to get Nancy. Later as they get more sophisticated, they outgrow Nancy.

I liked it when I was younger, and as I recall Fritzi didn't speak in the older strips. The original Bushmiller strips were in my opinion superior to the Scott era. I'll still glance at it once in a while but it definitely isn't a favorite.
#34
Old 01-06-2006, 05:23 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Little Nemo
okay, I understand that many people think George Herriman was a genius, but I'm sorry I just don't get it.
Same with me. Also Patrick McDonnell.
#35
Old 01-06-2006, 05:46 PM
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Ernie Bushmiller's Nancy was brilliant. No, not in the same way that Calvin and Hobbes or Th Far Side were. And yet the purity of the gag, the simplicity...

Everything was designed to bring you to the punchline in Nancy. Character consistency was not relevant. Storytelling was not relevant. What happened in the strip yesterday was unimportant to what happened in the strip today. Can you think of any other long-running comic strips where the everyday living background was inconsistent? Nancy's house would look one way on one day, and a different way the next...depending only on what was needed for the punchline.

Simplicity.

A baseball field. A hole in the fence to watch the game. And then the joke. Always different. Somehow always the same.

Sluggo is worried that Nancy is still mad at him. He passes her window. Sluggo is wearing a football helmet. He thinks for some reason that if he tosses his hat threw the window and Nancy tosses it back...that will mean she is no longer angry at him. So he tosses the helmet through the open window...

In the last frame we see a very angry Nancy. She had been making fudge at the time. The helmet has landed in the bowl of chocolate which has splashed out ---bathing her in fudge.

+++++

It is a major shame that most of Bushmiller's work is long out-of-print. I have several collections of which I will randomly now pull out another strip and describe:

Okay, it's a Sunday strip from March 16th. No telling what year.

Coincidence. It is Nancy at her window again with Sluggo. She is holding a rag doll that only appears in the first frame. It will not be needed to balance the imagery again. An oversize ball or balloon(?) is to her left. The long shot of the room is perfectly framed. From outside her window come the words: "Yoo-Hoo"

It is Sluggo. He is sticking his tongue out and rolling his eyes strangely. He says to Nancy: "I'll bet you can't make funny faces like this"...to which Nancy replies in the same frame "I'll bet I can"

+++
Before you continue reading, take a moment and guess where this is going. I argue that with Nancy it is usually impossible to tell. On the other hand, with many of today's newspaper comics you can see what's coming after reading the first couple of frames. Rarely was that the case with Nancy.

+++

Sluggo continues: "Listen -- I'll give you this quarter if you can make a funnier face than me"

Sluggo holds a small gleaming tantalizing circle.

There are now eight straight frames of Nancy making bizarre funny faces. Most of these frames are half size so that there would be extra room for all the weird mishapen Nancy faces, but the strip would still fit in its alloted Sunday space. In two of the images we see Sluggo outside. We see him only from the back. Is he impressed? No matter. That is not relevant. Not yet.

In our second-to last-frame we see the shadow of Aunt Fritzi leaning into the picture. The shadow holds a spoon in one hand. A bottle in the other.

"Time for your cod liver oil, Nancy"

In our last frame we see Nancy with a sickened tongue-spitting bleah look on her face. Three sweat drops fly from her head. And Sluggo is holding the coin up to the window.

"WOW -- YOU WIN"

+++++

We all won on that March 16th. We win everytime we read a Bushmiller Nancy strip. Was the strip ever funny? That itself does not matter. It was the joke ...not whether the joke was funny.
#36
Old 01-06-2006, 05:49 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Biotop
Ernie Bushmiller's Nancy was brilliant. No, not in the same way that Calvin and Hobbes or Th Far Side were. And yet the purity of the gag, the simplicity...
The obvious choice to direct the Nancy movie?

Paul Verhoeven
#37
Old 01-06-2006, 06:00 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mr. Blue Sky
The obvious choice to direct the Nancy movie?

Paul Verhoeven

Any Nancy movie would have to just wander from short scene to short scene with no connection...so that the scenes could almost be in random order. There would be no character development, few reused sets, and Sluggo would have a different house or dog or accent only as the next short scene demanded. And the infamous three rocks would appear over... and over... and over again.
#38
Old 01-06-2006, 07:53 PM
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Nancy is best absorbed in large doses, until your eyes are glazed over and your head is spinning. There's a kind of epiphany that occurs after that.
#39
Old 01-06-2006, 08:53 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Krokodil
Denis Kitchen sounds like an A-Grade dickhead, judging by that interview.
#40
Old 01-07-2006, 04:49 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GuanoLad
Denis Kitchen sounds like an A-Grade dickhead, judging by that interview.
He may be, but the interview was between him and another prominent cartoonist (Shannon Wheeler, "Too Much Coffee Man"). A lot of the dickheadedness was actually in-jokes, like the idea of a secret, conspiratorial society of Bushmiller aficionados.
#41
Old 01-07-2006, 10:05 PM
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I used to know a guy who would play this elaborate practical joke on his girlfirend. Every week they would get the Sunday papers and read the comics. And every week he would laugh uproariously when he read Prince Valiant. And naturally his girlfriend would never see what was so funny. So he would "explain" to her again that Prince Valiant was the funniest comic strip in history and he was continuously amazed that she didn't "get" it. So she'd keep trying to figure out the joke week after week.

I'm starting to wonder if perhaps Denis Kitchen is playing a similar joke on all of the rest of us.
#42
Old 01-07-2006, 10:32 PM
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I always thought of Nancy and Family Circus as being primarily for kids.

Johanna, it's a freaking comic strip. Those speech balloons are less tiny, and considering the output a cartoonist with a daily strip puts out, they aren't going to be perfectly accurate when it comes to foreign speech. That's hardly racism.

#43
Old 01-07-2006, 11:04 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Little Nemo
I used to know a guy who would play this elaborate practical joke on his girlfirend. Every week they would get the Sunday papers and read the comics. And every week he would laugh uproariously when he read Prince Valiant. And naturally his girlfriend would never see what was so funny. So he would "explain" to her again that Prince Valiant was the funniest comic strip in history and he was continuously amazed that she didn't "get" it. So she'd keep trying to figure out the joke week after week.
This had me laughing for a good long time. I'm going to use some variant on
this. (Yes, this is probably a Bad Idea. Yes, it probably makes me a jerk. It's worth it.)
#44
Old 01-08-2006, 02:19 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Guinastasia
I always thought of Nancy and Family Circus as being primarily for kids.
Actually, I think The Family Circus is primarily for parents. "Ha-ha, yeah, my kids act just like that!"
#45
Old 01-08-2006, 02:52 PM
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I have to admit that I find Nancy more entertaining than either Henry or Pud... but that's just me.
#46
Old 01-09-2006, 10:42 AM
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Nancy was one I always read because it had an element of the surreal to it. I also find something very interesting visually about the strip. For example, this one is just supremely odd in my opinion. And I love it.

Quote:
Originally Posted by GuanoLad
Denis Kitchen sounds like an A-Grade dickhead, judging by that interview.
You really think so? I thought he was hilarious. And I always thought you had a sense of humor......
#47
Old 01-09-2006, 11:45 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Johanna
I'm appalled at the casually racist cultural ignorance that once used to be accepted as normal. Ernie Bushmiller was too lazy to drag his fat butt to the library or bookstore and find some examples of real Japanese writing?
Cartooning is a stark medium. It's all about the intended joke without much time to get to it.
If the Japanese had been real, people (who understood Japanese) would be trying to figure out how it related to the intended joke.

It's not racism, it's American comic convention like question marks coming off of a head or $&%@! for curse words.
#48
Old 01-09-2006, 03:14 PM
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Join Date: Nov 2001
Location: North Kakkalakee
Posts: 12,628
Nancy and Sluggo go to the zoo. They go the gnu pen, but it's empty. The zookeeper tells them the gnus got too wild and had to be sent away. Sluggo says "No GNUS is good GNUS."

That was so stupid it burned into my memory for 30 years.
#49
Old 01-09-2006, 03:28 PM
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Join Date: Apr 2000
Location: America's Dairyland
Posts: 12,780
Quote:
Originally Posted by BobLibDem
I liked it when I was younger, and as I recall Fritzi didn't speak in the older strips.
Fritzi always spoke in the Bushmiller strips. It was her comic first, after all.
#50
Old 01-09-2006, 05:05 PM
Charter Member
Join Date: Mar 2000
Location: Faber, VA
Posts: 7,218
Quote:
Originally Posted by Walloon
Fritzi always spoke in the Bushmiller strips. It was her comic first, after all.

Fritzi was actually a wannabe thespian. In one memorable strip, she is the understudy for a famous actress. They are filming a scene on top of a tall building in which a dummy of a man is wrestled with and thrown off the roof.

The director tries to send the famous actress down to the street to retrieve the dummy for a re-shoot. But no SHE is too important to do that. Send the understudy down to get the dummy!

So Fritzi has to walk down the flights of stairs to get the dummy.

However, when she gets to the street below, she finds the dummy lying on the sidewalk with its hat upturned. The hat is full of money as people have mistaken the fallen dummy for a hapless drunken beggar. Fritzi wins.
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