Bill Griffith’s Three Rocks: The Story of Ernie Bushmiller: The Man Who Created Nancy (Abrams ComicArts, Aug.) is a graphic biography of one of the unsung heroes of newspaper comics. It’s also an impassioned argument for the complexity and value of Nancy, the Sunday funnies strip Bushmiller drew for nearly half a century. Griffith, an underground comix creator and unlikely champion of Bushmiller’s old-school style, will appear at San Diego Comic-Con to make his case for the subtle greatness of Nancy, in hopes that a new generation of fans will discover this comics history among the hoopla.

How do you feel about going to Comic-Con?

It’s not my turf—I don’t find too many readers who are doing Spider-Man cosplay. Although I would love it if somebody did Nancy and Sluggo cosplay while I’m in San Diego. Then I would forgive them all of their transgressions.

Could this potentially introduce different people to Bushmiller’s work?

That would be great. There’s probably entire generations that have little if any awareness of the original Nancy. There is a current version running that has no relation to the Ernie Bushmiller Nancy. At San Diego, I’ll be in conversation onstage with Matt Groening. Huge, huge Nancy fan. His star power might bring in a few people.

Why do you think they brought in new artists to make the current Nancy instead of running reprints like with Classic Peanuts?

Nancy is too weird for reprints. They made the right move.

Are you making an argument in Three Rocks for Bushmiller’s sophistication?

There are two schools of thought about why Bushmiller is great. One is condescending, and it’s the more popular of the two, which just says he dared to be dumb but did it with such wit and style that it rose above being a forgettable strip. The other school of thought, which I guess I’m in, says that there’s a Zen element, a contemplative and almost surreal quality, to Nancy. When I read Nancy my critical mind goes away. I am in pure comic enjoyment.

Do you think people can appreciate the comic on different levels?

A couple of years ago, a book was published by Mark Newgarden and Paul Karasik called How to Read Nancy. It makes the case even more strongly that Nancy was a work of huge significance and subtlety. They analyze every square inch of one Nancy strip. People who liked Nancy as something simple and forgettable, if they’re willing to let some air into their heads, can see it as a much more complicated, much more satisfying work of art.

What was it like researching Bushmiller? Did you find things about him, his life, and his approach that resonated with you?

I found a lot. Not to compare myself in any way, but here I am: a daily strip cartoonist doing a book about another daily strip cartoonist. We are brothers in that sense.

He was a sophisticated guy. He used to call his readers gum chewers. But he himself chewed no gum.

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