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 Ernie (Ernest Paul) Bushmiller  (1905 - 1982)

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Lived/Active: New York      Known for: illustrator-"Nancy" cartoon

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Ernie Paul Bushmiller
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Ernie Bushmiller, creator of the highly successful "Nancy" comic strip, is noted for his quintessential cartoon style. He started drawing professionally while still in his teens and was involved with cartoons and comic strips for over 60 years. In addition to the fuzzy-haired little Nancy and her tough beau Sluggo, he created Phil Fumble and drew Firtzi Ritz from 1925 onward.

Bushmiller was born in the Bronx of New York City. After six months of high school, the redheaded youth quit to take a job as a copy boy with the New York World: "I was the personal office boy for Alexander Woolcott, Heywood Broun, Walter Lippman, and many other immortals." Eventually he worked his way into the art department, becoming a colleague and friend of Rudolph Dirks, H.T. Webster, Milt Gross, and Herb Roth. His own drawing style, first developed on the sidewalks and brick walls of the Bronx, was simple and direct and obviously influenced by those around him. Bushmiller also studied nights at the National Academy of Design.

In 1925, after handling an assortment of cartoon jobs on the World, Bushmiller was given the opportunity of taking over Fritzi Ritz. Begun in 1922 by Larry Whittington, the strip dealt with a pretty flapper who got a job in the movie business, which still had flourishing studios in the East at the time. In most later autobiographical accounts, Bushmiller went in for some revising of history, usually claiming he had created Fritzi and not mentioning Whittington at all.

Although he used simple continuities in the strip, Bushmillers prime concern was with building a strong gag each and every day. Unlike most of the other artists doing features at the time C.A. Voight with Betty, Russ Westover with Tillie the Toiler, among them Bushmiller rarely relied on cute dialogue and wisecracks for his payoffs. He was always more fascinated with props and pantomime, and many of his punchlines were visual as well as verbal. By the 1930s, he was regarded as one of the best builders of gags in the business. It wasnt until much later that he was criticized for allowing his mechanisms to become overly obvious and the simplicity and clarity in his drawing having given way to a rubber stamp look.

A Fritzi Ritz Sunday page was started in 1929, and the following year a topper starring Phil Fumble was added. Phil, like his creator, was a redheaded fellow; in fact, Bushmiller often caricatured himself as looking like a taller, plumper Fumble. Early in 1933, shortly before Ritzi went west to try to crash the movies in Hollywood, Bushmiller introduced a small, spongy-haired niece to the daily. This was Nancy, and by 1938 she was so popular that the strip was re christened in her name. Bushmiller, who had been moving away from gags about Fritzis social life, now concentrated almost entirely on the kid world of Nancy and Sluggo. On Sunday be began doing a Nancy half-page and a Fritzi Ritz half-page, sending the now homeless Phil Fumble in to become Fritzis perennial boyfriend. By the 1940s, Nancy was one of the most popular strips in America, appearing in several hundred papers.

Bushmiller and his wife settled in Connecticut in the 1950s. They had no children. He led a relatively quiet life there, contrasting with the period some years earlier when he shared studio space in New York City with Milt Gross, H.T. Webster, and Dow Walling.

Bushmiller had help on his strips, employing both assistants and ghosts. Bernard Dibble worked with him and eventually ghosted the Fritzi Ritz Sunday page in the 1950s. Al Plastino drew the Sunday Nancy for many years, and Will Johnson drew the daily during Bushmillers final years of association with the strip. "Although he was proud of his accomplishments, Ernie was uncomfortable with fame," Brian Walker has written in his book on Nancy and her creator. "He loved to put himself down and viewed himself as the champion of the underdog. To him, children were the ultimate underdogs." Never especially vain about himself, he once said, "I look like a honeydew melon in all my pictures." A fellow artist, Charlie Plumb, described him as "red-haired and baby faced . . . you might mistake him for the butchers boy minus the meat."


(Information on the biography above is based on writings from the book, "The Encyclopedia of American Comics", edited by Ron Goulart.)


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