WHERE’S NANCY?

TWENTY-FOUR “I WONDER”S

I wonder why no one thought of it before: The Nancy Book (Siglio Press), a collection of Joe Brainard’s oeuvre-within-an-oeuvre featuring Ernie Bushmiller’s Gioconda of the postwar funnies, produced in various media between 1963 and 1978.

I wonder if it’s worth saying right off that the Nancys are by and large less beautiful than most of Brainard’s art. Less, for instance, than the modestly ravishing pen-and-ink illustrations with which Brainard graced the books of numerous poet-friend-collaborators. (The Vermont Notebook, with John Ashbery, and The Champ, with Kenward Elmslie, are terrific examples.) Carter Ratliff calls Bushmiller’s own line “crisp but uninspired,” omitting how well it met the needs of mass newsprint reproduction. Brainard came to mimic it perfectly, when he chose.

I wonder if sustained discussion of the Nancys isn’t akin to explaining a joke. They’re so deft and likeable that calling their jibes at (mainly) sex and art history “critical” seems gravely misleading.

I wonder whether anyone needs reminding that Nancy herself was never such a raving beauty either.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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—Franklin Bruno

Franklin Bruno’s writings appear. So do his recordings. The latest, respectively: Policy Instrument (Lame House); The Human Hearts’ Civics (Tight Ship).

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