Somehow, both fans and detractors got it twisted debating last year’s surprise reinvention of Nancy—an 80-year-old newspaper comic strip now in the mischievous hands of a web cartoonist who draws under the pseudonym Olivia Jaimes. For all its extremely online references, tech-centric gags, and metanarrative flourishes, the new Nancy is not a radical departure from the strip’s Great Depression–era origins and its midcentury heyday, but a return to what made Ernie Bushmiller’s original so beloved in the first place.
Matthew Phelan, for Slate, interviews Olivia Jaimes, current Nancy cartoonist.
As with many stars there were conditions to the interview:
To help protect her anonymity, Jaimes has avoided phone interviews and public appearances, wearing masks or using a voice modulator when she’s been compelled to speak publicly. As a condition of this email interview, her editor asked that I not even bring up the pseudonym at all, a level of reclusiveness that Jaimes shares with Nancy’s creator. After moving in 1950 from New York to Stamford, Connecticut, Bushmiller developed a reputation for actively avoiding the company of other major newspaper cartoonists
After a year and a half on the strip Olivia has a clearer idea of how to approach the historic character.
Olivia Jaimes: It feels like I’m writing Nancy fan fiction, which is very freeing. I’ve said the same thing to my editor before, and she’s gently broken it to me that my Nancies are canon, but fan fiction is what it feels like nonetheless. Maybe what I mean by this is that I feel comfortable transforming the strip in ways that suit me because I trust readers to know “the rules” of transformative works like fan fiction. It’s your take on characters that are shared by everyone. You’re not trying to pass seamlessly as the original author; you’re stretching and bending the original work to make it say what you want it to say.
Asked about some of her new characters, Olivia is also asked about re-introducing old characters. While I would have asked about Phil Fumble, she is asked about a character who never appeared in an Ernie Bushmiller comic strip. (The character was created by John Stanley for Nancy comic books.)
I’m happy that I’ve managed to add new characters whose personalities capture nearly all the different flavors of my neuroses.
(That said, I think about Oona Goosepimple all the time. Everything about her goes against the governing laws of my Nancy universe: She’s explicitly supernatural; she bends the rules of reality instead of working within their constraints; she’s drawn in a different style. Right now, I feel cocky and self-assured that she would never enter the strip as long as I’m drawing it. But at the same time, I’m morbidly curious! What kind of creator will I be in five years? How inviolate are “rules” for a strip when you’re on the hook for making 365 a year? Will I look back on this and think, why on earth was I ever opposed to Oona Goosepimple?)