This is a long meditation on Ernie Bushmiller and his Nancy comics. It took me days to read, unlike the average graphic novel, which you can often breeze through… Griffith gives you your money’s worth. A lot of the biographical elements in this graphic novel mirror the biographical detail found in Paul Karasik and Mark Newgarden’s How to Read Nancy, which I also just read this year. In the biographical sense, there isn’t a lot new here (maybe nothing new), if you already read the biographical sections of that earlier book. Luckily, Griffith isn’t too focused on Bushmiller’s biography, and it’s a much more pleasurable and entertaining read than How to Read Nancy (which is a great book too, but overly academic, though that is sort of its point, yes?).
The best part of Three Rocks is the fairly large sample of Nancy strips scattered throughout, though they are reprinted a little too small, like thirty percent smaller than in the Fantagraphics daily collections that came out a decade or so ago. I also really enjoyed reading Griffith’s riffs on Nancy, where he sort of imagines Nancy into strips that help push the Bushmiller biography forward. Or uses them to explore different ideas about what makes the Nancy comics so much fun. I especially enjoyed the long (thirty-page) epilogue imagining Nancy, Sluggo and the whole gang as elderly retirees. A beautiful, funny, and touching way to close out the book.
That said, I’m not the biggest fan of Bill Griffith as an artist, like his drawing in Zippy, here the art is functional, clear and readable, but doesn’t really wow you. It’s tough though, most cartooning is going to look kind of so-so rubbing up against all those perfect Bushmiller (or his assistants) comics. There’s a perfection to Nancy that can’t be beat. It’s so weird that we’ve got at least two very good books about the Nancy newspaper comics released, but only haphazard reprints of the comics themselves (I noticed NYRB Comics is putting out a 152 pages Nancy collection in May of 2024, though I hear it’s mostly just reprinting strips that were already in the Kitchen Sink reprints from the 1980’s).