Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Review: How Sluggo Survives

how sluggo survives

How Sluggo Survives
Ernie Bushmiller, edited by James Kitchen
Kitchen Sink Press
ISBN 0-87816-067-1
out-of-print, price my vary

I found this book as part of a Mystery Hoard that included, in total, 3 issues of Wizard Magazine and a giveaway Spider-Man comic.

How Sluggo Survives is a collection of Ernie Bushmiller's Nancy comic strips that focuses on Nancy' co-star and sometime boyfriend, Sluggo. Sluggo is a tough working class kid with no visible means of support, modeled after the slang-talking, newsboy-cap-wearing inner-city kids of U.S. popular culture, akin to Hollywood's Dead-End Kids and Jack Kirby's kid gangs.

This is a fascinating volume, part of a series of themed reprints published by Denis Kitchen during the short-lived Nancy renaissance of the 1980s, when everyone from Frank Miller to various Underground and RAW alumni were singing the praises of the so-called 'dumbest comic strip' ever. One of the best parts of the book is the introduction by reclusive control freak, painter and RAW Magazine cartoonist Jerry Moriarty. Moriarty sums up the appeal of Nancy for the Underground generation as "brain repair," noting that "[b]eing a reluctant Ernie Bushmiller fan also said something about esthetic renewal and ongoing change and hope." Moriarty's essay is accompanied by notes from his alter-ego, Jack, of "Jack Survives" fame. The conceit of this Jack piece is that Jack has been a living in Nancy's town and has observed her adventures with Sluggo from a distance, although he sometimes feels like he is observing something resembling the activity of another dimension, perhaps the creation of his elderly neighbour Bushmiller.

The strips in How Sluggo Survives seem to have been chosen for the degree to which they reveal aspects of Sluggo's life away from Nancy. Many intriguing snippets of his existence are revealed, including Sluggo's address (140 Drabb St.), his various jobs (office boy, delivery boy, scrap dealer, grifter, goldbrick), and portents of his future --a recurring gag revolves around the fortunes he receives from one of those "weight and fortune" amusements that used to litter the commercial districts of every town in North America. Sluggo is a fascinating, mysterious character: a proto-punk hobo child who oozes America from every inky line.

Since I grew up largely post-RAW, I've always taken for granted the canon-icity of Nancy and so the Nancy naysayers and those who argue that Bushmiller's strip is moronic (or even those who appreciate Nancy in an ironic or, "so bad it's good" sense) have always puzzled me. The strip is well-crafted, charming, and, more often than not, very funny and thought-provoking. Highly recommended!

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