Thursday Comics Hangover: Nancy gets fancy

On April 9th, a new cartoonist using the pseudonym "Olivia Jaimes" took over the daily Nancy newspaper comic strip.

The Nancy strip has often been a bastion of anti-art. Ernie Bushmiller's original Nancy comics were always so vacant in plot and in ambition that they practically demanded readers to fill them with meaning. They looked so clean and neat and geometric that they appeared to be untouched by human hands, and the behavior in the strips bore no resemblance to real life. Nancy and her friend Sluggo didn't act like people. They acted like characters in comic strips. They went to soda fountains and hung around butcher shops. They said things that could only make sense if you were saying it to telegraph a punchline in a comedy bit.

The Nancy strip has always been a postmodern joke about comic strip jokes, a strange antiseptic world so generic that you wouldn't be surprised to find that Nancy's word balloon in the last panel of any given strip read "INSERT PUNCHLINE HERE." After Bushmiller passed away, artists like Jerry Scott and Guy Gilchrist tried to capture Bushmiller's odd sense of humor, but they mostly succeeded in creating a generic comic strip about a little girl who was kind of a dick and her weird dumb bald friend.

Jaimes, though, adds something new to the strip: a perspective, style, and voice. Most of Jaimes's strips so far have had to do with modern life. There's an awkward earbud joke, and a few jokes about social media. (In one self-referential panel, Jaimes intrudes to say that "Any questionable art from now on is because Nancy and Sluggo are using a Snapchat filter.") But the best of the strips trade on Nancy's long history of self-absorption. Nancy admits to Sluggo that her goal in life is "to be famous without having to work," for instance.

My favorite of Jaimes's work so far was published on Tuesday, and it manages to combine Nancy's horrid lack of self-awareness with a fairly up-to-date topic: social media bots.

That last panel, with Nancy's resentful face and the absurdity of Sluggo-bot, is just about perfect. Obviously, real people directly in front of you can't be bots, but Nancy can't fathom dissent and so she questions her friend's free will. You could almost picture our president appraising a reporter with this same entitled sneer on his face.

Nancy fans — and yes, there were some — naturally hate the new stuff. On the sit GoComics, Lambert2015 commented on the above strip:

I just can not get into the new Nancy..just not what I enjoy reading with my breakfast. Bye, I will unfollow this comic

And someone named Chirp writes:

I don’t like this crap and just unfollowed this destruction of a 70 year old comic strip. Millennials, IF they read comics, will LOVE the fact that the RACE of 1 of the main characters has now been changed. I wonder when their sex lives will?

I have no idea what Chirp is talking about with regard to race — perhaps they're referring to the strip's new color palette, which uses more browns and yellows than past Nancy strips? If so, yikes.

And the complaints just keep coming. A user named JLG complains, "So far, this new version of Nancy seems rather unfocused and hard to really sink your teeth into," as though you could really devote three or four hours to the substance of a single Nancy strip by Gilchrist or Bushmiller.

Any change on the comics page always evokes a litany of complaints from hardcore fans. Comic strip followers seem to be a pretty conservative bunch, and they absolutely hate change. But the hate Jaimes is receiving is something else again — you'll find a lot of men in the comments raging against her and claiming that she was just an affirmative action hire and needs to be replaced, presumably by a man, immediately.

As for me, I'm a big fan of Nü Nancy. I think the strip is calling back to Bushmiller's bone-dry sense of humor, and Jaimes's idiosyncratic art is endlessly appealing. She's got Bushmiller's sense of minimalism down, but now Nancy looks like an alternative comic. It's a vastly different interpretation than Bushmiller's — weird and wavy as opposed to angular and antiseptic — but it works perfectly in this most meta of comic strips. I'm willing to bet that in six months, the haters in the comments will either have moved to a conservative comic strip (do they still make Mallard Fillmore? If so, why?) or they will have died of old age. We're seeing the eternal struggle between baby boomers and millennials playing out on the comics page, and the sheer weight of time indicates that you should probably put your money on the younger of the two.