What is Fun?

[unfunny Nancy]

I couldn't resist. It was just sitting there in the bookstore, silent, waiting. Every day I would stop and look at it, with the freakish fascination of bystanders at the scene of an accident.

It kept calling to me. I kept coming back to it.

A friend was wondering what was wrong with me. "Why do you look at that? You don't even like it!". How could I explain to him the indifferent compulsion that drew me again and again? How could I explain that words such as "like" became meaningless, hollow noise when compared to the universe of my fascination?

And then one day, I bought it: The Best of Ernie Bushmiller's Nancy.

I know, my fascination is weird. It's one of the flattest strips in existence. Few people think the comic strip Nancy is funny. I don't, and neither do many others.

Any strip that can be around as long as Nancy, and not be funny once, has really got something going for it.
-- Michael Frith

There's something insidious about Nancy. It sucks the will to live out of a person. After I read it, I feel blank, as if now I'm Nancy, and the world is a huge joke that I don't get. Or doesn't get me. Or just maybe it's a joke that isn't funny at all.

So of course I had to buy the book. And it's not funny.

[ersatz Nancy?]

Okay, now here's the question: is this a real Nancy strip, or not? It looks like one, and it's not funny. So it could be. But how can we ever know?

Is Nancy's musing in the last panel just a curious mind at work, or is it really an expression of existential despair? Nancy, the epitome of the featureless self, identifies with the sheep. This isn't surprising. She too has no individual feature, no distinguishing characteristic, just like sheep. She is the utter iconic self.

Nancy lies in bed awake, wondering about sleep. But is this really so? Has she perhaps confused "sheep" and "sleep"? When she wonders about sleep, isn't she really wondering about death, the final dissolution of the self?

Nancy wonders about the world. Of course she does. She is alone in a world of black and white, simple circles and straight lines. Other characters in the strip have distinguishing features, while Nancy is the stripped essence of a person. Can this be all there is to her life?

This is Fun.

[3 rocks]

Answer: Fun is three rocks.

Not two rocks.

Not four logs.

Three rocks.


Even though Ernie Bushmiller is dead, Nancy still isn't funny.

Actually, it's worse than ever. The new Nancy is a cheat. They are recycling old strips. For example, the 1996-07-09 strip was just a redrawn version of Ernie Bushmiller's 1948-05-19 strip. How lame. What's the point? Why not just run the original again?

I'd show it to you, but the new strip has a nasty copyright notice. And United Features doesn't even have an email address.

More real Nancy can be found in Brian Walker's book The Best of Ernie Bushmiller's Nancy, ISBN 0-8050-0925-6, ©1988 Comicana Inc. Comicana's address is listed as 34 Old Forge Rd., Wilton, CT 06897.

Last updated 8 June 2000
All contents ©1996-2002 Mark L. Irons except images © 1939, 1971, 1939, and 1960 (respectively) United Features Syndicate; "three rocks" text ©1985, 1994 Bill Griffith, from Are We Having Fun Yet?.

[still not funny]