So, had a bit of a shock when I checked in on rec.arts.comics.strips yesterday. You know the results from the subject line here but, whatever. Bud Grace, of The Piranha Club, announced he’s retiring the comic strip as of the 3rd of February. That’s after thirty years of the comic strip, originally titled Ernie and renamed after it turned out the club generated more stories than Ernie himself did. (This was posted by Charles Brubaker, cartoonist for Ask A Cat and The Fuzzy Princess and one of those working cartoonists that I kind of loosely know.)
As ever, I’m disappointed for the comic strip to end. I don’t suppose The Piranha Club ever got regard as an A-list comic strip. But I remember it as one of my happy discoveries in the late, incompetently run Strips weekly newspaper. It’s always been a reliably good belly-laugh, slightly-risque comic. Also Grace’s retirement reduces the number of comic strips drawn by physics majors out there. (Bill Amend, of FoxTrot, is another, which will surprise nobody who’s read his mathematics jokes.)
Also announced and shocking, and coming to me by way of D D Degg by way of the Nashville Tennessean: Guy Gilchrist is retiring after over two decades producing Nancy. His last strip is to be the 18th of February. His tenure’s to end with Aunt Fritzi marrying Phil Fumble. Phil had been a characer in the earliest days of the comic, and was reintroduced in late 2012. There’s no word yet as to whether the syndicate will find a successor writer or artist, or whether they’ll put the comic into eternal-reruns, or whether they’ll just let it end.
Nancy was, I admit, one of those comics I didn’t pay much attention to growing up, even though it ran in the evening paper and was even still done by Ernie Bushmiller at that time. In the 90s I would occasionally hear cartoonists talk about the astounding design of the comic, and wondered what they were on about. Since then, and especially with the rerunning of vintage Nancy strips on Gocomics.com, I’ve been able to see what they were on about.
Gilchrist doesn’t write or draw with the uncanny streamlined precision of Bushmiller. I imagine he’d agree, much as I expect he’d agree if I were to say he wasn’t as good a singer-songwriter as Ray Davies is. But he did a number of things to revitalize the comic strip, including bringing back long-forgotten characters such as Phil and the Goosepimple family (an Addams Family expy that originally appeared in the Nancy comic books), which expanded the kinds of jokes the comic could do. And he also brought a appreciation that was fanboyish in the good ways, particularly to musicians. One could complain that it’s as obvious as the editorial-comics celebrity-at-the-Pearly-Gates cliche to have Fritzi talking about how great (say) David Bowie was one lead-time after his death. But how often do you see comic strip characters who are both aware of pop culture and actually just like stuff?
Last other major bit of news, that again I get thanks to D D Degg, is about Dan Piraro’s Bizarro. It’s going to stay Dan Piraro’s comic on Sundays. But Wayno, Wayne Honath, is to take over the weekday comics. For this, he’s dropping his own, thematically similar, Waynovision. Wayno’s filled in some weeks or collaborated with Piraro on Bizarro in the past, and this succession makes fantastic sense. It’s just a shame to have two lushly-drawn offbeat panel strips merged into one.
Oh, and, since people do wonder: Gasoline Alley has been in unannounced reruns the last couple months. As best D D Degg can work out, the last new daily was on the 11th of November. Yes, I’m freaked out that this was just when I did my last recap of the venerable comic strip. There’s no public word about what’s going on or just why. I plan to recap what’s run when the comic’s turn comes again in I think early February. But I am worried that the comic might have quietly lapsed into the comatose state that befell The Katzenjammer Kids. At least we noticed this before nine years went by.