The Comics Journal | Rob Clough | January 31, 2011
Nancy Volume 2 in the Comics Journal
The latest edition of the John Stanley-written (he also did breakdowns) Nancy goes from strength to strength in terms of its use of character formulas, but it brings diminishing returns until a series of connected stories in the book’s last section provide Stanley a chance to really stretch out. Dan Gormley did the finished art, getting it to properly approximate the original Ernie Bushmiller designs. One of the main differences between these comic book reprints and the original strip is that Stanley fleshed out their world, getting them to interact with a wider range of environments. These stories are also more physical and caper-oriented, as Stanley’s style of humor involved stacking gags on top of a premise with a final payoff gag. In these comics (originally published by Dell in 1959) as opposed to two set-up panels and one punchline (that was often a word-based pun rather than a sight gag). While Nancy and her friends crack wise constantly, the humor in these comics was primarily visual: houses falling down, cement dropping on characters, round-headed visual reminders of Sluggo haunting Nancy, etc. The strong hand of Stanley the designer can be seen throughout the comic, as there’s a symmetry in the way he arranges characters and objects in each panel. That keeps the reader’s eye moving quickly across the page as Stanley delivers exposition. When he wants to draw attention to action, he tends to contort his characters at an angle on the page: jumping, bending, lunging, stretching, falling–they are rarely depicted with a vertical or horizontal line, but rather a diagonal.
The only problem with these comics is that the title heroine is by far the least interesting character. While she’s a curious, rambunctious girl, she’s reduced to straight man role for the likes of Sluggo, his arch-enemy and tormentor Spike, and most especially the hilariously spooky Oona Goosepimple. The Oona adventures almost seem imported from another comic, as Nancy is put through the sort of dangers that Stanley creation Melvin Monster endured in his adventures. These stories are of interest not because of Nancy, but because of the bizarre obstacles Stanley throws in her way: bizarre tricksters called the Yo-Yos, a magician uncle who shrinks them, a gold egg that attaches itself to Nancy, etc. Through it all, Oona seems like a perfect innocent, though it’s clear that she has a more active hand in the weird goings-on than she might indicate.
All of this is perfectly solid Stanley good for some laughs, but a level below his Little Lulu comics or the characters that he created. That changes in the last section, taken from an annual comic that put Nancy and Sluggo at a summer camp. That simple change of venue seemed to really excite Stanley as a writer, as he sent Nancy, Oona and big-beaked friend Nosey Rosie to Camp Fafomama. Stanley gets a lot of mileage in that trio torturing their monitor with a withering series of stunts and insults, with the final reveal that it’s Sluggo resulting in a circle-completing punchline. Stanley, always fond of the energetic but sometimes clueless Sluggo, made him a fish out of water in the woods, but his guile and toughness helped him get the best of a gang of kids who had been harassing him. There’s even an Oona-centered story that involves her using a magic door to go back to her house for dinner, with Nancy following along and inevitably getting in trouble. Rather than Stanley simply performing variations on a theme, these stories see him trying to stretch himself a little, and they’re certainly worth a reader’s time.