Nancy Volume 2 – John Stanley’s wit, invention and sheer fun (almost) wins me over.
Nancy Volume 2 (The John Stanley Library)
From the comic strip by Ernie Bushmiller, Script and layout by John Stanley, finished art by Dan Gormley
Drawn & Quarterly
Nancy Volume 2 collects just 4 issues of Nancy (167-169 and Summer Camp FC1034) from 1959. Originally created by Ernie Bushmiller and feted by many as one of the best comic strips of all time I have to come out and be honest and say that Bushmiller’s Nancy almost leaves me completely cold.
<pause for the boos to die down>
I can acknowledge the simplicity and the craft of Bushmiller’s stuff, but there’s virtually no emotional response from me at all to it. Sorry. Let’s move on.
John Stanley took over the writing and layouts for Nancy in the 60s, and his influence here is palpable. There’s a mischief and sense of sheer fun in naughtiness that I never got from Bushmiller (sorry). The core of the book is pretty much still the same – Nancy’s still the “brillo-headed” girl, Sluggo’s still her down at heel best pal, she still lives with Aunt Fritzi, and she still gets into scrapes.
But it’s the nature of the scrapes and the change in Nancy that Stanley brings that really makes this a far more enjoyable piece than Bushmiller ever managed (well, at least for me). Nancy has a lot more character in these strips, or at least it seems that way to me.
However, when it’s just the usual cast of characters I’m still pretty convinced there’s not that much more I’d really want to see than the few strips here. But luckily, Stanley brought some much needed weirdness and invention to Nancy. And most of that weirdness and invention comes from Stanley’s character, right there on the front of the book, arm in arm with a rather reluctant Nancy – Oona Goosepimple, an absolutely great creation.
Oona’s a spooky little girl who lives in a house Nancy is very, very keen to avoid. The house is haunted and full of strange relatives and the weird little Yoyos who come from behind the fireplace. Whenever there’s an Oona story Stanley just seems to go up a notch. His stories get sillier, more interesting, more involving, and a damn sight funnier. Take the very first in this volume, where Nancy and Sluggo find themselves strangely drawn to Ooona’s house – a common star to all the great Ooona stories:
(Nancy, Sluggo and, most importantly of all, the strangely attractive Ooona. From Nancy Volume 2, published by Drawn & Quarterly)
Once inside they find themselves shrunken to the size of a mouse, all so Ooona’s uncle, a famous magician, can put on a show. Why in miniature? Because Ooona’s uncle fell foul of a fellow magician and ended up living a shrunken life. Although fair’s fair, he did manage to transform the other magician into a cat. Oh dear, can you see where this is going?……
(Uncle Eek! and his nemesis. Yet again, it’s the Ooona strips in Stanley’s Nancy where he really lets fly with the weird, and it’s so much more enjoyable when he does. From Nancy Volume 2, published by Drawn & Quarterly)
There’s a later Ooona story which has Nancy once more inescapable drawn to the old haunted house only to feel very sleepy once she’s there. And then Stanley really pulls out something brilliant, something quite magnificently strange as Nancy gets caught up in what may well be her own dream (and you thought Inception was weird?)
(Nancy wanders into her own dream. Brilliant surreal stuff from Stanley. From Nancy Volume 2, published by Drawn & Quarterly)
One volume of John Stanley’s Nancy may well be enough for me to be honest. It’s fun, it’s inventive when he really lets fly, it’s lovingly drawn but it’s a little too repetitious whenever Ooona’s not on the page. I much preferred Melvin Monster – which had a great deal more of Stanley’s wonderfully weird humour all the way though. With Nancy (or possibly with Oona) Stanley’s wit comes through, but it’s constrained by working within the confines of someone else’s creation.
But irregardless of the actual content, one thing the John Stanley Library really benefits from is the design work by Seth. Each volume is gorgeous, and practically attains the position of object of beauty in and of itself – from the cover, through the iconography inside and a few beautiful Seth Nancy pieces, his work is incredible. (Although I’m quite sure he’d hate to be praised almost above the work itself in this way.)