UPDATED: Correspondence Between Beckett and ‘Nancy’ Cartoonist Was Fictional

By: E&P Staff

Amidst the usual comprehensive coverage of cartoon happenings in his latest “Rants & Raves” online newsletter, R.C. Harvey looks at an alleged 1950s correspondence between existential writer Samuel Beckett and “Nancy” cartoonist Ernie Bushmiller.

“Nancy” has been perceived as a simple children’s strip by some and sort of existential by others.

But a subsequent post on Tom Spurgeon’s Comics Reporter blog indicates that the mind-boggling correspondence was fictional. The letters exchange was invented and written by Scott Hamrah in 1999 for a “Hermenaut” publication piece illustrated by R. Sikoryak.

Harvey had written: “Beckett initiated a correspondence with Bushmiller that lasted for several months in late 1952 and early 1953. The exchange between the two … is a majestic example of two people talking past each other, neither understanding quite what the other is about but each assuming he understands perfectly.

“Beckett assumed from what he saw in ‘Nancy’ that he could write gags for Bushmiller, that his existential comedy would be in perfect sync with the strip. But Bushmiller simply couldn’t comprehend what Beckett’s gags were; he saw no humor in them.

“One letter includes the following: Your gag and strip ideas for Nancy are much appreciated, and I have to say interesting, too. Many readers send me ideas for the strip, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen any quite like yours….

“I don?t know how well they’re going to work. I think the problem you’re having, Sam, is the same problem any literary man might have. You’re not setting up the gags visually and you’re rushing to the snapper. It seems to me you’ve got the zingers right there at the beginning, in panel No. 1, and although I have to admit you got Nancy and Sluggo in some crackerjack predicaments, I don’t see how they got there.

“For instance, putting Nancy and Sluggo in the garbage cans is a good gag, but in my opinion, you can’t have them in there for all three panels. How did they get there? Same thing when you had them buried in the sand. I like to do beach gags, but I don’t think that having Nancy buried up to her waist in the first two panels and then up to her neck in the third one is adequately explained, and I’ve been at this game for a while now. Also, why would Sluggo be facing in the opposite direction when he’s talking to her?”

Guy Gilchrist and Brad Gilchrist now do “Nancy” for United Media.

“Rants & Raves” can be seen here.

Spurgeon’s July 16 post debunking the correspondence can be seen here.

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