May 22, 2017

Nancy: Lesbian Panic in a 1950s Comic Book

The cheesecake comic strip Fritzi Ritz premiered in 1922, with gags involving the aspiring model and her series of boyfriends, notably the nerdish Phil Fumble.  And a lot of sex jokes.

In 1933, Fritzie took in her orphaned niece, Nancy, a mischievous and rather melodramatic child.  Soon Nancy became the star -- the titular character in 1938 -- and acquired a series of friends and antagonists, including poor boy Sluggo.  Fritzie became mostly-absent parental figure.

Nancy has remained in print ever since. In contemporary strips, written by Guy Gilchrist, Fritzie is in her 50s and works as a music reviewer.

Nancy appeared in several issues of Dell Four Color and Dell Giants, and got her own title in 1957 (numbered #146 for some reason).

When John Stanley retired from the Little Lulu comic book,, he went to work on Nancy, writing all of the stories in issues #162  through #173, and then the renamed Nancy and Sluggo through #185 (1961).

Stanley specialized in the terrors and anxieties of childhood, and in Nancy's world  he goes unbrindled. The result is disturbing, sometimes painful to read.

Fritzie is at best neglectful, and sometimes downright abusive.

Nancy is jealous, spiteful, vindictive, petty, and vain.

Sluggo lives alone in an abandoned house and often goes hungry, unless Nancy agrees to feed him.

They are not friends, like Lulu and Tubby; they are dating, adding dark humor to their interactions as Stanley hints about just how physical they have become.

Neither has other friends, just antagonists and enemies who ridicule, criticize, manipulate, and harass them.

Sluggo has an adult nemesis who literally intends to kill him.

And the weird physical manipulations that, in Little Lulu, happened in stories, here happen in real interactions with the yoyos, who will transform you permanently unless you trick them into letting you go.

Perhaps the most disturbing element of the yoyos are the adults who fall into their trap, and spend their entire lives transformed, until, in old age, Nancy rescues them.

To top it off, there's Oona Goosepimple, who looks like Wednesday Addams from the Addams Family comics, an orphan (that's three of the regular cast).  She lives in a spooky old house with her usually absent grandmother.  Other relatives usually appear, as threats.

One uncle is a giant, lying asleep in the basement.  If he ever awakens, his movements will bring down the house.  So Grandma keeps him drugged.

Nancy dislikes the "creepy" Oona, and rejects all of her overtures of friendship -- but finds herself drawn unwillingly to the house anyway.

She is invited to a party, but arrives to discover that she is the only guest.

Oona pushes Nancy to eat cookies, play games, and spend the night.

Nancy tries to refuse, but can't help herself.

A weird compulsion to spend the night with a creepy girl, or eat the forbidden fruit.

During the 1950s, gay men and lesbians were portrayed as expert seducers, pulling innocents unwillingly into their "deviance."

Just another of the horrors of Nancy's world.

See also: Little Lulu

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