Kid Reporters

Nancy turns 80!

Cartoonist Guy Gilchrist talks to TFK about writing and illustrating the beloved comic strip

June 28, 2013
GUY GILCHRIST

Nancy has been an iconic American cartoon character since the 1920s.

Is it possible to be both 8 and 80 years old at the same time? Give up? The answer is yes—if you count comic-strip characters. Nancy, a third-grader, is the star of a popular comic strip found in newspapers across the country and around the world. That comic strip, also called Nancy, turns 80 this year.

The beloved characters of this classic cartoon go back to 1922, when Nancy’s Aunt Fritzi was the star of a comic strip called Fritzi Ritz. Eleven years later, Nancy showed up on Fritzi’s doorstep as an orphan. Nancy stole the spotlight, and the comic was renamed.

Today, Nancy remains a well-known character, with her comic strip appearing in more than 80 newspapers. TFK Kid Reporter Faye Collins recently spoke with Guy Gilchrist, who has been the comic strip’s author and illustrator since 1995.

TFK:

What is the best part about drawing the comic strip Nancy?

GUY GILCHRIST:

It's a family strip, and I think that that's my favorite part. I get to be a part of something really positive that hopefully makes readers smile. Maybe you're not having a great day or maybe there's something that touches you.  It’s that something I'm doing actually can affect things—in somebody's heart or maybe in America, or in the whole world, because the comic is published in 80 countries. The strip goes places I'll never go.

The classic cartoon character celebrates her 80th birthday this year.
GUY GILCHRIST
The classic cartoon character celebrates her 80th birthday this year.

TFK:

Tell us about Nancy and the rest of the gang.

GUY GILCHRIST:

Nancy is eight years old in the comic strip. She is a regular kid who is loud and obnoxious but very, very sweet. She’s an angel and a little bit of a devil. She can be a brat. She loves [the character] Sluggo though no one knows why, and the two of them are orphans. Aunt Fritzi takes care of both of them, and now Phil is in the strip and is kind of taking care of Sluggo. I think of them not just as American children, but children universally. If you ever notice in the strip, I don't really have them doing things that cost a lot of money. I have them doing things that kids can do, like climbing trees, going on swings, playing, and walking. They are doing stuff you can do anywhere in the world.

TFK:

How did the comic start?

GUY GILCHRIST:

Aunt Fritzi was actually the real star of the comic, and the strip was originally all about her. She was a beautiful girl trying to make it in show business. Ernie Bushmiller, who started the strip, loved being out in California. So he would have Fritzi go out there and work in silent films and do that sort of thing. Then, in 1933, the whole country was broke. We were in a depression. There were many kids who were being left with relatives or family friends because the parents had to leave town to go find a job. So Ernie used that idea, to have Nancy show up at Fritzi's door as an orphan, and she was just so popular that five years later, they renamed the strip Nancy. She took over completely. Then Sluggo came along five years later in 1938 as well.

TFK:

What do you think makes Nancy special?

GUY GILCHRIST:

I think because she’s an average girl. Plus, she has really weird hair. It's like a football helmet with a lot of points coming out of it. I really have no idea. I learned how to draw it; that's all I really know.

TFK:

Can you describe the process of creating a comic strip?

GUY GILCHRIST:

Kid Reporter
Faye Collins

I'm always writing. I need many, many, many ideas because there are 365 printed strips per year, and they're not all good. Once I'm done writing, I do the penciling on all the dailies—Monday through Saturday strips—for one week, all together. I draw all six at the same time. Then everything I do is using real pens and brushes; I don't use any computers.

TFK:

What inspires your ideas for the comic strip?

GUY GILCHRIST:

Everything. Ideas come from everywhere. I’ve been writing things down in little composition books for many years. All my jokes, everything I write winds up in those books. If I don’t have ideas, and I really can’t think of anything, I’ll look at old composition books. I’ll take some of those old ideas that didn’t really work and I’ll figure out why they didn’t work, and I’ll use [them].

Guy Gilchrist draws a special edition TFK cover for Kid Reporter Faye Collins.
COURTESY COLLINS FAMILY
Guy Gilchrist draws a special edition TFK cover for Kid Reporter Faye Collins.

TFK:

How do you think Nancy has lasted 80 years?

GUY GILCHRIST:

I think she has lasted 80 years because you can see yourself in Nancy, or you can see yourself in Sluggo. It’s a pretty simple idea of kids being kids. The idea when I sit down at my desk is: How can I make you, the reader, smile? I try to come up with something that, I hope, will be goofy or funny or silly. Or, it’s just something sweet. The main thing when I’m writing it is to be honest and communicate with as few words as possible.

TFK:

How has Nancy changed over the years?

GUY GILCHRIST:

Well, Nancy started out being 8 years old in the 1930s, which was a totally different world. There was no television yet, so people listened to the radio, and newspapers were extremely popular. Recently, I made a strip where the character Jack has Aunt Fritzi on her iPhone watching YouTube videos, because that’s what we do now.

TFK:

Did you always want to be an illustrator?

GUY GILCHRIST:

Always. I knew from a very early age I loved to draw. When I would watch cartoons on television or read a comic book or look at the comic strips in the newspaper, I wouldn’t just read them. I would try and copy them and get better.

TFK:

Is there anything else you’d like to tell TIME For Kids readers?

GUY GILCHRIST:

Yes. Every single person in this world is given a gift. The more that you work on that gift, the better you will get. The amazing thing is while you were using that gift and getting amazing at it, there may be another gift that’s been laid at your feet and it’s been there since the day you were born, too. You never want to be afraid to open that one, too.


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