“Nancy” Takes Her Spot as Pop Culture Icon

In this special treat for designers, illustrators, and comic aficionados, two acclaimed cartoonists crack the code of the classic “Nancy” comic strip.

Originally created and drawn by artist Ernie Bushmiller, the “Nancy” comic strip is now nearing its 80th year of continual publication. The early Bushmiller dailies have acquired a reputation as the platonic ideal of a comic strip for would-be chroniclers and historians of cartooning: simple, direct, and masterful in form and execution.

Artists of all stripes have found inspiration in Nancy’s hijinks. Comics maven Scott McCloud (who calls the work “a comic so simply drawn it can be reduced to the size of a postage stamp and still be legible”) famously created the game of Five Card Nancy, where individual panels are shuffled and can be reconfigured into fresh new strips ad infinitum. Underground cartoonist and longtime “Zippy” scribe Bill Griffith has waxed eloquent on the zen nature of three stacked rocks, Bushmiller’s longtime choice of background detail. Even Andy Warhol lifted a “Nancy” panel wholesale for one of his paintings. It’s not too outrageous to say that, for a certain sort of comics nerd, there’s a Church of Nancy.

Artists Mark Newgarden (cocreator of the Garbage Pail Kids) and The New Yorker cartoonist Paul Karasik are the leading voices of the “Nancy”-as-comics–Rosetta Stone school; they argue that everything germane to the creation and appreciation of comics is locked inside a single “Nancy” comic…to be exact, the August 8, 1959, strip. Newgarden and Karasik have recently reworked their 1988 tour de force essay of literary deconstruction, “How to Read Nancy,” into a book-length piece, featuring an introduction by no less a luminary than the late Jerry Lewis, to be released this year by highbrow graphic novel publishing house Fantagraphics. In support of the book release, the authors will be on hand at Parsons to lead you through a high-energy PowerPoint lecture detailing the dogma of the “Nancy” gospel. Bow down.

Why You Should Go: This talk represents the 200th meeting of the New York Comics and Picture-Story Symposium at Parsons, an ongoing series run by professor and cartoonist Ben Katchor, author of the acclaimed Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer. In other words, the mecca for cartoon and graphics geeks.

Mark Newgarden and Paul Karasik present “How to Read Nancy”
The Bark Room at Parsons School of Design
2 West 13th Street (between Fifth and Sixth Avenues), Greenwich Village
Tuesday, November 14
7 p.m.

We’re sure you need a place to do a deep dive about what you just learned; we have a few suggestions.