American comic strip, created by Ernie Bushmiller and distributed by United Feature Syndicate. Nancy Ritz, a chubby little girl with a red bow in her frizzy black hair, made her debut in 1933 as the niece of the lead character in Bushmiller's "Fritzi Ritz" strip. Her popularity soon pushed Aunt Fritzi into the background of her own comic strip, and it was renamed "Nancy" in 1938.
Besides Nancy, the main characters of the strip include:
- Sluggo Smith: Nancy's best friend (and maybe boyfriend), a poor, rough-around-the-edges kid with short, stubbly hair and a cloth cap.
- Fritzi Ritz: Nancy's paternal aunt, a former flapper who is drawn in a more realistic and glamorous style.
- Rollo Haveall: A curly-haired rich kid.
And aside from a few minor characters, that's pretty much the most recognizable characters.
Bushmiller drew "Nancy" for decades, winning the National Cartoonists Society's Humor Comic Strip Award in 1961 and the Reuben for Best Cartoonist of the Year in 1976. It hit peak popularity in the 1970s, when the strip ran in almost 900 newspapers. Bushmiller was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 1979 but kept working with the assistance of Will Johnson and Al Plastino. He died in 1982, and Plastino took over the strip for a couple of years. The strip was drawn by various cartoonists over the years. In 1984, Jerry Scott took over the strip and drew it in a much different style -- much less of Bushmiller's influence, much more modern, with a higher quality of jokes. But it just didn't feel like "Nancy," and after a bit more than a decade, it was taken over by Guy and Brad Gilchrist, who returned the strip to something more closely resembling Bushmiller's classic style.
So what was Bushmiller's classic style? Extremely simple but stylized artwork -- many cartoonists admire (sometimes genuinely, sometimes grudgingly, sometimes purely ironically) the way Bushmiller was able to convey his ideas so economically. You can shrink a "Nancy" strip down to a ridiculously small size and still be able to get the joke. Not that the jokes are good -- they're painfully bad, dumbed down even below the level you'd need for a strip aimed solely at very young children.
But again, Bushmiller fans do appreciate this as part of the weird genius of his style. To his supporters, the seemingly primitive nature of "Nancy" disguises the careful artistic architecture Bushmiller used to set up his gags. Cartoonists like Art Spiegelman, Scott McCloud, Bill Griffith, Wally Wood, Chris Ware, Mark Newgarden, Paul Karasik, and many others have expressed admiration for Bushmiller and even incorporated elements of his style into their own cartoons, while Andy Warhol based one of his paintings on a "Nancy" strip in 1961.
In 2018, "Nancy" got a new cartoonist, the pseudonymous Olivia Jaimes, who brought in a lot of new readers and controversy. She modernized Nancy's visual style and included topical jokes about Snapchat, Facebook, earbuds, and Twitter bots, and included the bizarrely hilarious lines like "Wow, she is going in on that cornbread." and the memetic "Sluggo is lit." Lots of readers liked this more anarchic style, while plenty of others were enraged by the changes made to the strip.