This photo has triggered some discussion in Russian social media. The contributor of this news item found it interesting that people are making a fuss even though it is a 20-year-old image which still brings delight to the now adult subject. But more importantly, it vividly illustrates the symbolic importance of nudity. The assumption today has become that it is somehow sexual, a matter of shame and that having it posted like this is an invasion of privacy. The reality is, at least in this case, that it represents a kind of giddy freedom and a moment of happiness so rarely experienced in life. Who among us could resist sharing such an idyllic memory?
People literate in Russian and English are encouraged to share some of the more cogent points that may have been shared on that site.
I will get to the next post in the Lowbrow Art series next time, but let’s do something that’s quite overdue: an album art post!
First up is one of my favorite covers from my youth. I believe the child on Bad Company’s Dangerous Age is meant to be a boy. Sure, it could be an image of a boy who happens to have longish curly hair, but I’d lay dollars to doughnuts that this is actually a little girl. In my opinion the album was not one of Bad Company’s better efforts, but it did help to get the band back on track after the previous album, Fame and Fortune, which fared poorly.
Photographer Unknown – Bad Company – Dangerous Age (cover) (1988)
Again, I cannot verify that the child on the cover image of CYNE’s Pretty Dark Things is a girl, but if it were a boy, at this angle there’s a strong possibility that his testicles would be partially visible. Little girl infants are often used for nude photos like this one for precisely that reason. Now, when you look at this image, what do you think? If you’re a white person, you are likely to think, aw, that’s sweet—a black man cradling a white baby. It’s all about racial harmony and a world where everyone is colorblind, right?
But that is not, in fact, the message being conveyed here. According to the band, this image was actually inspired by former member Akin Yai’s reflections on his reading of Martinican political activist and poet Aimé Césaire’s provocative and controversial 1950 essay Discourse on Colonialism, one of the strongest repudiations of European colonialism ever published up to that point. The image is to demonstrate how colonized peoples—usually people of color—begin to accommodate and acclimatize to the presence of the white European colonizers and think of them as innocent when in fact they are certainly not. Moreover, the colonized become like nurses or caretakers for the selfish, needy colonizers, who demand and take from the colonized but offer nothing substantial in return. There could be other layers of meaning here too that I’m not picking up on, but the point is, when you begin to look at this seemingly innocuous image through the eyes of the colonized black, brown, yellow or red man, it takes on a much more sinister tone than we might be inclined to perceive outside of that context. It’s a powerful and thought-provoking image for that reason.
Photographer Unknown – CYNE – Pretty Dark Things (cover)
Along the same lines is the cover for Congregation, the third album by the Afghan Whigs, and there is no question that the infant this time is a girl. I’ve seen two versions of this cover, the main one being the one below. The other version, which I think may have been used for the re-release of the album, shows both the baby and the woman looking upward at the camera.
Photographer Unknown – The Afghan Whigs – Congregation (cover) (1991)
Since we’re doing the Afghan Whigs, we might as well put up the cover for Gentlemen, which was their breakthrough album and my introduction to the band. This is another great example of an image which is only provocative in context. The image features a shirtless boy sitting on the edge of a double bed while a girl lies on the bed across from him. Given the themes tackled on the album—troubled relationships between men and women—the suggestion here is quite evident. The back cover depicts the same boy dressed in red overalls standing in a hallway. I no longer have the actual album to verify, but as I recall, there were one or two interior images with the boy and girl together as well. This image is almost iconic now, so much so that it has been parodiedmore thanonce.
Photographer Unknown – The Afghan Whigs – Gentlemen (cover) (1993)
Now, the tiny toddler on the cover of the Thompson Twins album Here’s to Future Days is most definitely a girl. Since she appears with the band, I assumed she was the daughter of one of the band members, but that does not appear to be the case. Good album art photos of a band often have at least one wild card element, something that makes it stand out from others of its type. A mysterious naked toddler definitely qualifies as such a wild card.
Photographer Unknown -Thompson Twins – Here’s to Future Days (cover) (1985)
The same little girl appears again on the cover for the album single King for a Day, in the arms of Tom Bailey, the band’s lead vocalist. She does not look very happy in either of these images, which hints at a strong probability that she had never met any of the band members before this photo shoot.
Photographer Unknown – Thompson Twins – King for a Day (single cover) (1985)
And now we move on to one of my favorite bands ever, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. If you know anything about Nick Cave, then you know his music tends to be pretty dark. His sixth album, The Good Son, took a slightly different turn, being full of lighter ballads. Well, light for Nick anyway. And the cover is a nice reflection of that, featuring a fresh-out-of-rehab Cave spiffed up in a white tux and playing a grand piano for a bunch of little girls, all identically clad in delicate white dresses. In and of itself it’s not a provocative image; it’s only the presence of Nick Cave (whom many parents would hesitate to leave alone with their precious little darlings based on his appearance alone) that might cause us to look askance at it.
I’ve seen two versions of this cover floating around as well. The main one features red lettering, while the less common one features white lettering. I will post the former (as well as the back cover, which shows an image of three girls from the same photo shoot beating on a drum).
Photographer Unknown – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – The Good Son (cover)
Photographer Unknown – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – The Good Son (back cover)
Additionally, the music video for the album single The Ship Song echoes the same imagery as the album cover:
Here’s another group I really like. It’s not easy to sum up the sort of music Piano Magic makes in a few words, but if pressed to do so, I would say it is dark ambient pop. This cover is for the single release of Speed the Road, Rush the Lights, which comes from the album The Troubled Sleep of Piano Magic. I can’t quite tell if this is a photo, a painting, or some combination of the two.
Artist Unknown – Piano Magic – Speed the Road, Rush the Lights (single cover)
Bauhaus was an early goth rock band featuring the fabulous Peter Murphy on vocals. They never had any major hits, but they are perhaps best known for their nine-and-a-half minute epicBela Lugosi’s Dead. After the short-lived band broke up in 1983, Murphy of course went on to a solo career, while two other band members formed Tones on Tail (I shared one of their covers in the Spring 2017 edition of my album art series.)
Photographer Unknown – Bauhaus – Kick in the Eye/Searching for Satori EP (1982)
And last but certainly not least is a cover suggested to us by one of our followers (thank you!) This is the beautiful—and rather provocative—cover for Mea Kulparik Ez by Imanol Larzabal, a folk-style singer of Basque origin. I know little about him beyond that, other than that he fought as part of the Basque separatist group ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna) for a time in his youth. I searched for a high-quality version of this cover, ultimately downloading six different versions, none of which I was entirely happy with. I finally narrowed it down to two and have opted to post both. The first is closer to an ideal version of the image, but it isn’t quite as in-focus as I’d like and is a touch too dark. The second version is lighter and larger, but it is also somewhat weathered. Between the two I think we can get a pretty good idea of what this should look like.
I also found the image for the cassette tape of the same album. It features the same girl in the same setting but in a different pose. Unfortunately, it is heavily scratched up and quite small. I could find no other copies of this image online, not even bad ones, but it is still worth sharing. If someone could do some research into this covert art, perhaps find out who the photographer was and even what the title translates to, maybe it will lead to better versions of these images.
Photographer Unknown – Imanol – Mea Kulparik Ez (cover)(1)
Photographer Unknown – Imanol – Mea Kulparik Ez (cover)(2)
Photographer Unknown – Imanol – Mea Kulparik Ez (cassette cover)
A reader came forward with this picture of a sculpture in his home town of Boston.
Robert Shure – Boston Irish Famine Memorial (1998)
It is one of two groups of sculptures installed in The Boston Irish Famine Memorial, a memorial park located on a plaza along The Freedom Trail. Sculpted by Robert Shure, they were supposed to commemorate the contrast between an Irish family suffering during the Great Famine of 1845–1852 (‘The Potato Blight’) with a prosperous family that emigrated to America. The park was opened in 1998 and received scathing reviews earning it the moniker of “the most mocked and reviled public sculpture in Boston”. The statues are also accompanied by eight narrative plaques. The criticism lies mainly in the fact that the figures are portrayed in an outdated and cloyingly stereotypical manner.
Our contributor found this statue particularly interesting because of the little girl’s mourning pose and her ripped clothing which reinforces mainstream stereotypes.
Graham Ovenden’s Official Website: Now that the hype about the Ovenden case has receded somewhat, the artist felt it was time to show that he has not simply retreated into the background. The lack of internet presence in the past turned out to be something of a blessing because it meant that the prosecution could not make a case for the trafficking of pornography over the internet. Even today, Ovenden rarely communicates by email and only to a small circle of friends and trusted associates. However, he has been keen on establishing his own website the past few years and perhaps a forum for telling his side of the story. A couple of weeks ago, the official website (designed by Rainbow Digital Media and the artist himself) was launched. Viewers will discover that, far from being idle the past few years, Ovenden has finished a number of very new paintings (landscapes and portraits) and digital graphics projects. Also present is a sample of his photography (both documentary and model studies), architecture and literature (largely inspired by his recent experiences with the legal system). There is also a page for an Afterword which will offer updates about the latest legal actions, issues and comments by the artist when such information will not compromise his position on pending countersuits. Because of all the negative press, there will be no comments section or a place to send a message to the artist. Instead, Pigtails in Paint has been asked to serve in a public relations capacity and help field inquiries and orders for Garage Press materials (more on this later). In other words, the target audience for this new site are museums, libraries and serious collectors. Take a look!
More on Balthus: In the hype about the recent exhibition of the Balthus paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, there is often the assumption that the only issue is what voyeurs should legally be able to get away with. Often overlooked, is the experiences of the model and why such girls might be interested in participating in the work. Lauren Elkin wrote an interesting piece that offers a rare perspective. I think the author does needlessly equivocate but it is important, particularly for male readers, to understand the young girl’s attitude and motivations.
The Happiest Two Kids on Earth: Pip shared an interesting item: video footage of a special tour Walt Disney gave two children (a boy and a girl) of Disneyland just before its grand opening in 1955. The interesting thing is how much more attention Disney seems to have given the little girl. If memory serves, Disney himself had two daughters so perhaps these interactions were simply more natural for him.
Thought Police? On a peripheral subject, a man serving time for the possession and distribution of child pornography had his term extended when sexually-explicit images and stories produced by the prisoner were found by authorities. The circumstances of this case does offer some fodder for debate about the limits of personal thought.
One day there was this Dutch girl, Floortje, who got an “internship” at the company ‘Italy in the Polder’, selling Italian cars and scooters in Holland. A polder is a phenomenon peculiar to the Netherlands referring to land that has been reclaimed from the sea and low-lying rivers. ‘The Polder’ has also become a term to indicate the Netherlands generally. This was what Floortje did and thus sold her first Maserati within 4 hours. This second video’s title is ‘Floortje verpatst Maserati’. ‘Verpatsen’ is the typical Dutch way of saying that something is very easy to sell—almost too easy!
(Unknown photographer) – Floortje (2018)
The context of this first video is unusual in that it is not strictly a proper commercial. It may simply have been Floortje’s audition performance. Actually selling a Maserati in this fashion, as can be seen in the second video, is a news item about the unexpected continuation of that performance. The story is essentially this. There was this guy, Sam, who is the entrepreneur of ‘Italy in the Polder‘. And Sam also has creative ambitions of making videos and singing in them and so makes commercials he also calls ‘Italy in the Polder’. His neighbour girl Floor asked him several times whether she could act in one of them.
(Unknown photographer) – Floortje and Sam (2018)
In her first clip, Sam tells her that she has a very interesting approach but how does she expect to sell a car? Floor answers that the car will sell itself! In the second clip Sam comments that there is a whole shop dedicated exclusively to these cars but to sell one in 2018 one needs to do something special. Floor put together these dances probably from things she has seen before. In answering a question from a reporter, she simply explained that she did some kind of shuffle and something called ‘swish swish’ and then she danced (as if the shuffle and swish swish were not dances themselves). Here is an example of shuffle which begins at the 31 second mark. The swish swish comes from the so-called ‘Backpack Kid’ which is connected to Katy Perry. I was able to find some girls doing these two dances and even found one that combined both. But what the originals may have looked like must be left to the imagination, as I could not find any clear example on YouTube.
After being questioned about making a sale in just a few hours Floortje says only, “we have sold it!”, in a tone of surprise. She did not think that the clip would have been watched by so many people.
So, it is quite possible to drive a Maserati over the Dutch dikes. And one day Floortje herself may drive one, if ‘the Polder’ can manage to stay dry until then.
Just a little reminder that almost every well-known and first-rate figurative artist who worked before the 20th century created at least one image of a nude child. Here is a drawing by French Romantic-era painter Eugène Delacroix, whose most famous work is Liberty Leading the People, an image that has become virtually synonymous with the French Revolution.
Delacroix was born in 1798 in the French commune of Charenton-Saint-Maurice. Though his father was purported to be Charles-Henri Delacroix (a general in Napoleon’s army), his real father was probably the famous French bishop and politician Talleyrand, who was a friend of the family. He began his art career by studying under Pierre-Narcisse Guérin, and his influences include Raphael, Peter Paul Rubens, and especially Théodore Géricault, who innovated Romanticism in art. In addition to his Romantic images, he also experimented with Orientalism, eventually producing over 100 images featuring the peoples of North Africa.
But we, of course, are most interested in the following image, a drawing I literally couldn’t find any information on other than the artist and title. I did find two separate versions of it, so I’m sharing both. Though it’s difficult to tell for sure, the girl, who I’d guess to be somewhere between age three and six, appears to be leaning in a corner of a room.
Eugène Delacroix – Enfant nu (1)
Eugène Delacroix – Enfant nu (2)
Update: Christian has taken the time to do further research into this image and was able to discover what the text at the bottom reads. Check out his comment in the section below this post for that, and for links to the source of the information (in French), as well as a larger version of the image itself and a small version of the painting that this eventually was used for, a Madonna and Child scene.
One thing that struck me about the image initially was how plump the girl’s thighs were. This is not out of keeping with Delacroix’s overall style, but given the degree of realism in this drawing otherwise, it felt like a deliberate exaggeration. Now it makes sense. It seems Delacroix had always planned for this model to stand in for the infant Jesus. Looking at the painting, one can see he made further modifications: the body overall is shorter and plumper, the head larger, and of course, he chose to obscure the child’s genitalia behind a cloth. That was likely always going to be his plan, which is why it didn’t matter that the original model was female rather than male. There is also an argument to be made that he may have chosen a female purposely, since feminine children were already perceived as prettier and more graceful than masculine children by then, and those are qualities a Romantic-era artist would likely wish to portray in the Christ-child. I would not at all be surprised if this was a somewhat common practice for Madonna and Child artworks created from the late Renaissance on. – Pip
A doll is more than a toy. It can represent various things: an ideal version of oneself, an intimate companion, a butt or whipping boy, a super-hero, a training for future parenting, etc. Generally dolls take the shape of European babies or children, often girls.
How do dolls relate to race in the United States, a country deeply marked first by slavery, then by segregation? In the 1940s, Mamie Phipps and her husband Kenneth Clark, two African-American social psychologists, designed and conducted a series of experiments known colloquially as the “doll tests” to study the psychological effects of segregation on African-American children. They described the protocol in a scientific article: the children (aged 3 to 7) were shown two dolls, identical except for the colour of the skin and the hair, then asked several questions. The questions involved which ones had certain qualities (“nice,” “bad,” “that you like best,” etc.), the race of the dolls, and which one looked like them. Most children, while identifying the race of the dolls and recognising their resemblance to the black one, attributed positive qualities to the white doll. The following video shows this experiment:
This test was recently performed in A Girl Like Me, a 2005 documentary by Kiri Davis about African-American teenage girls.
The relation between dolls and race is at the heart of the exhibition “Black Dolls” showing the Deborah Neff collection of dolls and photographs, which was held from February 23 to May 20 in La maison rouge in Paris.
African-American children often had white dolls, as can be seen in the following two photographs:
Norwick, Conn. – untitled, NEFF 10020 (c.1900–25)
Untitled, back inscription “Helen Dorothy Elmer Jess”, NEFF 10007 (c.1908–1920)
Were there black dolls? What did they look like? First we have the racist stereotype; as writes Robin Bernstein about the “minstrel mask” of racist theatrical performance, “it renders skin jet-black, transforms eyes into oversized pops of white, and stretches lips into a fire-engine red vortex.” A gallery of such caricatures can be seen here.
Then there is the “darkened European doll,” a doll with facial features and clothing corresponding to a European person, but with a dark-coloured skin. Finally there is a long tradition of hand-made black dolls giving a more dignified view of African-Americans. Deborah Neff collected hundreds of them, most of them made between 1840 and 1940. Here are three dolls from her collection:
Cape Cod Mass. – Well dressed dolls with painted faces, NEFF 335/336 (c.1890–1910)
Lady in beaded gown, NEFF 68 (c.1895)
Generally these dolls were made by African-American women, in particular in the South. One would expect that they would be given to their children, but one can find several photographs and paintings of white children with black dolls, as shown here:
Burnham Studio, Norway, Maine – untitled, back inscription “Mary Jones and Dinah”, NEFF 10014 (c.1870–85)
Untitled, side inscription “Jean Frantz”, NEFF 10001 (c.1855–65)
Probably many white children in the South got such dolls from their black nannies. However in the North, anti-slavery activists also made black dolls to be sold during fund-raising events, so parents would intentionally give black dolls to their children as a token of support for black emancipation.
A strange configuration is the “topsy-turvy” or “twinning” doll, which was popular in the 19th century, especially in the South. It has no legs, but two heads, two pairs of arms and two torsos, black on one side and white on the opposite side. See here:
Minimal topsy-turvy doll, NEFF 241 (c.1920–30)
At the shared waist was attached a long reversible skirt. Flipped one way, it hid one side, as shown below:
Topsy-turvy doll (1)
Topsy-turvy doll (2)
In the words of a 1903 advertisement, “Turn you up / Turn you back / First you’re white / Then you’re black.” According to Patricia Williams, these dolls made by enslaved black women expressed the cruel ambiguities of their motherhood: some of their children, also slaves, resulted from their rape by their white master, while they had to serve as nannies for the free children that the same master had with his legitimate white wife.
According to Deborah Neff, other less credible explanations have been given, that black children on plantations were not allowed to play with white dolls, or the opposite, that they were were not allowed to play with black dolls. Another theory is that they descend from German “hex” (witch) dolls, which made their way to Pennsylvania: they had one animal side and an opposite human side, one for casting spells and the other for curing ailments.
At the beginning of the 20th century, black militants encouraged the manufacture of black dolls as a way of teaching African-American children the dignity of their origins. Anyway, the tradition of sewing dolls at home disappeared after World War II, and plastic replaced cotton; so there are few recent dolls in the collection.
I end with five pictures of the exhibition in La maison rouge, Paris:
Black Dolls exhibition, La maison rouge, Paris (1)
Black Dolls exhibition, La maison rouge, Paris (2)
Black Dolls exhibition, La maison rouge, Paris (3)
Black Dolls exhibition, La maison rouge, Paris (4)
In the 5th photograph, we see at the back a photograph by J.C. Patton, from around 1915, of a middle-class black family; the little girl holds a white doll. In front of it several “topsy-turvy” dolls are exhibited.
Black Dolls exhibition, La maison rouge, Paris (5)
Interested readers will find the above material, and much more, in the exhibition book:
Nora Philippe, editor: Black Dolls, la collection Deborah Neff, co-published by Fage and La maison rouge, February 2018, ISBN 978 2 84975 497 9.
Credits: The citations in the text come from the above-mentioned book. The above photographs of children with dolls and the shown dolls are from the Deborah Neff collection, their catalogue number (after the prefix ‘NEFF’) is given in the caption. The two photographs of “topsy-turvy” dolls with flipping clothes come from the Imgrum page of Nora Philippe, curator of the exhibition. The last 5 photographs come from the web page of La maison rouge devoted to the exhibition.
Recently on Thursday May 3rd an up-to-then unknown girl of 8 became famous for a few days. Sofie, who is from Spaarndam in the Netherlands started hanging several meters high on a bar in front of a bridge to a sluice. One might expect a stunt like to be attempted by a boy, but it wasn’t.
It is unknown whether she wanted to remain anonymous, at least until she had the chance to climb some real mountains. Suddenly she was lifted to a high altitude and found herself having a short adventure, in a manner of speaking. The whole thing lasted about one minute.
After the incident, her friend Noa said that Sofie suddenly went ‘wheeez’ into the air, holding on to the bar meant for stopping cars and pedestrians, like Sofie, from falling into the channel below as boats passed through.
(Unknown photographer) – Sofie and Noa (2018)
After the boat passed, the bridge went down again, but the bar was still too high for Sophie. “Like a silly one”, said Noa’s and Step’s (another friend of Sophie’s) fathers said afterward. The sluice operator realizing what was happening stopped the bar from going all the way back up. The father had warned the girls three times about playing with the bar when it was about to go up. He and a bystander quickly stood under her, pleading for Sofie to let go so they could catch her; but Sofie said she could not because her hands were too sticky, the very reason she went up in the first place.
She, Noa and Step were there on their way to an ice cream shop, which was subsequently delayed several hours after the aforementioned events, much to their dismay. Only once the bar was brought all the way down, did she finally return to earth. The father had some sharp words for her and she cried, but she also got a hug.
It was her practice of sport-climbing walls and climbing trees that helped her avoid a tragedy. But it did not save her from, as her mother explained, nightmares afterwards. A journalist asked Sophie what she would tell other kids about her experience. She cautioned that (translated from a YouTube clip), “Now, I would never do this. You would think it is just fun. But it is very, very high”. Here Sofie speaks about it in her native Dutch. In the video, a few boys could be heard saying, “We’re used to a lot here, but this we never saw before.
I have thought of doing a post about Nancy for several years, but for two reasons I found it very hard to start. One reason is that many would not consider that comic strip to be on the same level as the fine art usually featured in Pigtails. Even as comic strip art, Nancy is minimalist. The gags are corny and although I loved Nancy, most of my friends thought the strip was dumb. The second reason is that there is so much material that it is difficult to choose a few representative examples for a short post. Ernie Bushmiller drew Nancy from 1933 to 1982, and other artists have continued the strip after Bushmiller died.
It is this lasting popularity of Nancy that makes me believe that it should be recognized in Pigtails. Nancy may well be the best known little girl in 20th century American art. By 1948, the strip appeared in 450 newspapers with a total circulation of 21 million. At the peak of Nancy’s popularity, in the 1970s, she was in 880 newspapers worldwide. Most papers were read by multiple members of the family, and the comics were read to those who had not yet learned to read. Perhaps 100 million people followed Nancy’s adventures each day. Even if Bushmiller is not in the same class as Da Vinci or Rembrandt, Pigtails in Paint would not be complete without a sample of his work.
Ernie Bushmiller was born in the Bronx, New York in 1905. His parents were immigrants; his father was from Germany and his mother from Ireland. Ernie’s father was an artist, a painter, who had to work at menial jobs in a struggle to support the family. Ernie learned two important things from his father. First, he learned an appreciation for the graphic arts and for literature. Second, he learned that it is difficult to support a family with fine art. To appeal to the masses, art should be simple and direct. Nancy certainly is.
Ernie Bushmiller – Nancy (1963)
Ernie quit school at age 14 and went to work as a copy boy at the New York World newspaper. At night he attended art classes. He was paid nine dollars per week, but he later said that he would have paid the paper to let him hang around. He loved working at the paper, where he worked with such cartoonist greats as Rudolph Dirks. Ernie’s big opportunity came in 1925 when he took over drawing the Fritzi Ritz comic. Fritzi Ritz was a liberated young 1920s flapper. In 1933 Fritzi’s orphan niece, Nancy, came to live with her. At first, Nancy was intended to be a temporary part of the strip. However, Nancy was so popular that she became a permanent character in Fritzi Ritz. She was more popular than Fritzi herself. Just as Popeye ousted Castor Oyl as the protagonist of Thimble Theater, and Snuffy Smith took over the Barney Google strip, Nancy became the focus of the Fritzi Ritz strip. Aunt Fritzi was relegated to a secondary role as the adult authority figure, and in 1938 the name of the strip was officially changed to Nancy.
Ernie Bushmiller – Nancy (1961)
What was it about the little girl that made her so loved by the readers? She was obviously more popular than the adult woman Fritzi. The little boy who was the lead male in the strip, Sluggo, was there only to support Nancy. Soon after Nancy appeared, there was a story in the Fritzi Ritz strip about an entrepreneur marketing a doll modeled after Nancy. Since dolls in the 1930s were generally girl dolls, this may be why Bushmiller chose to include a niece instead of a nephew in Fritzi Ritz. A girl probably works better in the later strips as well. I believe that the creator of the Little Lulu comic, Marjorie Henderson Buell, was correct when she noted that a mischievous little girl can get away with stunts that look cute, but would look boorish if done by a boy.
As the Nancy strip matured, the style became bolder and more minimalist. Everything in the art was there to support the gag. Everything was explicit. If the scene was a circus side show, the tents would be labeled in large capital letters “CIRCUS” and “SIDE SHOW.”
Ernie Bushmiller – Nancy (1970)
The strip above, from 1970, is a good example of the Bushmiller’s humor. There were a lot of hippies in 1970. There were also dwarfs (called midgets in 1970). Hippies were seen as foolish and lazy and were the subject of many jokes. However, simply being a hippie was not funny; the hippie had to do something particularly foolish or lazy to make the joke. Simply being a dwarf was not funny either; the dwarf had to do something unique to cope with his small stature to make the joke. The point of this strip is not that we should laugh at the dwarf hippie but that we should laugh at Nancy for believing such an outrageous thing as a dwarf hippie is possible. Note that the scene is near a circus side show. The “freaks” exhibited at carnivals and side shows in 1970 were usually fake, and at best greatly exaggerated. This “midget hippie” is really a midget, but is only pretending to be a hippie for the side show. In spite of his lack of facial hair, we know he is a dwarf and not a child because he smokes a cigar. Normally, children do not smoke, and in the world of Nancy, everything is normal. One of the keys to understanding the humor is to understand that Nancy’s world is more normal than reality. Things that would be slightly unusual in real life (such as a dwarf hippie) are often amazing or impossible in a Nancy strip. Even something as simple as wearing a wig is weird enough to make Sluggo’s hat fly off of his head.
Ernie Bushmiller – Nancy (1972)
You can read more Nancy strips here. To better understand the art and subtle humor, you may want to read How to Read Nancy: The Elements of Comics in Three Easy Panels by Paul Karasik and Mark Newgarden, and The Best of Ernie Bushmiller’s Nancy by Brian Walker.
Nancy has had some strong competition. Little Lulu was another popular children’s humor strip featuring a young girl. Little Lulu was in some ways like Nancy, but the plots were a little more complex and the humor was more sophisticated. Lulu has also starred in animated cartoons. Many would say Little Lulu was funnier than Nancy, but Nancy’s humor was unique. Little Orphan Annie was an adventure strip with a girl protagonist. The surreal art that portrayed people with no pupils in the eyeballs was instantly recognizable. Annie’s exciting adventures made her another popular comic strip character. Annie also has been in a musical and movies. Shizuka Minamoto, the female lead of the Doraemon comic strip, may be as well-known in Japan as Nancy is in America. The Japanese humor in Doraemon never achieved the success of Nancy in America. When the male lead in Doraemon embarrassed Shizuka by walking in when she was naked, which happened very often, it was innocent children’s humor in Japan, but would be seen differently in America. The Doraemon panel below was translated by Forgotten Scans.
Fujiko F. Fujio – Doraemon Vol. 12 Chapter 220 last panel (1976)
Nancy has been seven years old for 85 years. She is still popular, and her comic strip is still in production. I expect she will be in the comics for many decades to come.
One of our readers made this interesting submission of a painting located at the The First City Clinical Hospital in Moscow. Perhaps one of our readers with some expertise in Russian painting can tell us more. I am told that it is hanging in the foyer of the reception room in Building 5.
Nadezhda Kornienko – In the Palace of Culture Ballet Class (1956)
 I really love the teamwork here. Arizona did a reverse lookup on the image and found out the name of the artist and the particular piece. Christian confirmed which is the best quality image online used to replace the original submitted photo here. And another reader says that the one hanging in the hospital mentioned above is not the original, but a good copy. -Ron