Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Two Characters in Search of a Punchline

Today's Bizarro comic references two of my favorite cartoonists: Robert Crumb and Ernie Bushmiller.
Robert Crumb, perhaps the greatest cartoonist of all time, is the creator of Zap Comix, Mister Natural, Fritz the Cat, Flakey Foont, countless record covers (including the iconic Cheap Thrills by Big Brother & The Holding Company), and of course the once-ubiquitous Keep On Truckin' guys. He's been producing amazing work for 50 years, and he keeps getting better.

Ernie Bushmiller (1905-1982) was the creator of Nancy, a widely-disparaged daily strip which, perhaps paradoxically, is revered by many underground/alternative/smart-ass cartoonists. Nancy has been championed by the likes of Bill Griffith, creator of Zippy the Pinhead, long-time comix artist and publisher Denis Kitchen, and Mark Newgarden, an acclaimed cartoonist and co-creator of the Garbage Pail Kids.

Every time I hear the expression "carbon footprint," my brain processes it as "cartoon footprint," and I tried for some time to find a way to build a gag around the sound-alike phrase. Crumb's Keep on Truckin' characters certainly have big footprints, and placing one of them in the role of a climate-change protestor echoes the way the characters were co-opted as universal symbols during the hippie era, much to the artist's consternation.

My original sketch showed the trucker being lectured by a non-specific character. When Bizarro's Dan Piraro substituted Nancy, he completely anchored the gag in the cartoon universe.
I freely admit to being one of those Bushmiller fans described above, and have one of the master's original comic strips hanging in my studio. Here's a tribute I created in 1991 for Mark Martin's Lillian Spencer Drake Catalog of Values.
Ernie is also rumored to have inspired a secret society of fanatical followers, which has neither been confirmed nor disproved, despite intense investigation. This badge may or may not be associated with the enigmatic organization.
As is often the case with newspaper comics, Nancy continues to run, more than thirty years after Bushmiller's passing, the work of a syndicate hired hand. The less said about the post-Ernie Nancy comics, the better.

Speaking of old cartoons, you can view all of my previous collaborations with Mister Dan Piraro right here.

Tune in a week from today for another bit of Bizarro business.


  1. I read this in the paper. I read it on Dan's site. I read it here. Only when looking at your supporting text did my mind finally stop editing "Cartoon" into "Carbon".

    Liked it anyway, but I really gotta improve my cartoon reading game.

  2. Thanks, GP. It's odd how the mind does that. Look at it this way: you got your money's worth out of the gag with that delayed payoff.

    I know the feeling. I looked at this one for days before it finally hit me.