Nancy: Volume 2
Drawn and Quarterly’s second compilation of the John Stanley-penned Nancy comics are simply enjoyable, and deliver what the Dell Comics stamps promise: “clean and wholesome entertainment.” More exceptional, however, than the Little Rascal-esque hijinks is Stanley’s clever writing and humorous narrative. This talent has earned him a place in classic comics history.
Throughout a prolific career, Stanley most notably wrote for Marjorie Henderson Buell’s strip Little Lulu, but also authored Thirteen Going on Eighteen, and Melvin Monster, among others. After a formidable career as an author of humorous comics, as well as a brief foray into horror comics, Stanley left the industry in the late ’60s. His Nancy storylines reflect Stanley’s oeuvre of work, as well as comics and popular culture mid-century.
Cartoonist Ernie Bushmiller created Nancy in 1938, based on the niece in Fritzi Ritz, a daily flapper strip featuring pinup-worthy Aunt Fritzi. The spin-off strip focuses on the (mis)adventures of heady young Nancy. In the ’40s, Dell Comics began publishing the strips in comic book issues. While there have been a variety of writers working on Nancy, Stanley’s humor and wit deserve recognition.
Nancy: Volume 2 is part of D&Q’s John Stanley Library. With an Art Deco-style cover designed by cartoonist and illustrator Seth (Palooka-ville), this hardcover edition is an eye-catching work. This collection contains issues 146-150, printed from 1957-58. The thick matte pages are yellowed like the pulp comics of yore, but I missed the musty, inky smell of newsprint.
Nancy is anything but theoretical, and certainly wholesome. In many ways, Nancy is an archetype. She can be seen in the facial expressions of Bill Watterson’s Calvin, the independent world of Charles Schulz’ Lucy, and the harebrained adventures of Ruthie in One Big Happy. A headstrong young girl with 1950s America orbiting around her, perhaps young Nancy is one of the earliest feminists in comics.
The book shows a fascinating world of children with few adults. Aunt Fritzi is a single woman with an occasional boyfriend, who looks after brillo-headed Nancy. Nancy’s biggest admirer is Sluggo, a young boy who never goes to school, lives alone in a dilapidated house, and is constantly tormented by Spike, the local shaved-head bully.
One of the most interesting characters is Stanley-created Oona Goosebumps, a precursor to Comic Debris’ Emily the Strange and Addams Family’s Wednesday. If anything in Nancy verges on spooky or dark, it’s Oona with her haunted house and bewitching presence. Rounding out the cast is Rollo, a ridiculously rich boy similar to Harvey Comics’ Richie Rich. 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.
In 2009, Dark Horse Books released a complete run of Little Lulu comics, but the convenient paperback editions don’t have the aesthetic appeal of D&Q’s Nancy. I would have loved an introductory essay to provide historical context; however, if you’re looking for the pure experience of reading old comics, then this comes closer to that without the analytical rhetoric.