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A Rare Interview with Olivia Jaimes, the Pseudonymous Cartoonist Behind “Nancy”

posted by Tim Carmody   Nov 30, 2018

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At Vulture, my father* Abraham Riesman scored an interview with Olivia Jaimes, a mysterious young (?) cartoonist who’s resurrected the venerable strip “Nancy” for the 21st century.

Do you remember how you first got exposed to “Nancy”?

I read newspaper strips, so she was kind of in the air I was breathing. And my parents actually have an original “Nancy” in the house that I’ve read now, maybe, 10 million times. I’ll describe it to you.

Please.

Okay, so, panel one, Nancy’s looking at Sluggo and she’s like, “I really wish that guy would take a bath.” And then in panel two, she’s thinking really hard about soap and her eyes are looking at him and there’s a dashed line. And then in the third panel he hasn’t taken a bath, but instead, he’s sitting on a soapbox, blowing soap bubbles, and listening to a soap opera. She has not succeeded in her goal. I was really more into Pokémon. When I was reading the newspaper strips, I was like, No, what I gotta read is “Zits” and “Mutts” and other things that are cool for me, age 9. It wasn’t until I was in my early 20s that I really got into “Nancy,” and it was because there was a Tumblr that just posted panels out of context. Like, Nancy imagining a bank blowing up, or Nancy parading around banging something really loud. They were a gateway to more Nancy for me.

On her vision for the comics:

Why did you decide to lead off your run on the comic with the strip about Nancy eating corn bread?

I went back and I looked at the end of [previous “Nancy” cartoonist] Guy Gilchrist’s run. Nancy as a character had drifted from where I envision her, in that the Nancy I know and love is a total jerk and also gluttonous and also has big feelings and voraciously consumes her world. And I was like, I need to do a character-reset week. Just kinda being like, Here’s who Nancy’s gonna be right now. And also, I love corn bread. So, that’s it. That’s the reason. I wanted to reset expectations and pay homage to my favorite food.

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It’s funny that you say the Nancy you know and love is a jerk because that plays into my thesis about why your version of the strip has caught on. We’re living in this era of a curious sort of hedonism, where we’re totally aware and ashamed that we’re being slothful and vain and greedy, but we continue doing it all anyway. Nancy is our avatar, and we look at her and laugh because we see how terrible we, ourselves, are. Or maybe I’m off base.

No, that’s so true! Okay, so, yeah, I wanna talk more about this with you because I think you’re really onto something. There’s this thing in webcomics: #relatable. And #relatable can be used as a slur. To be like, “Uh, your comic is pandering to people.” I’m almost always in the camp where … It’s not like comics are easy, but I think it’s great to be relatable, and I don’t want people to use relatable as an insult. I feel like Nancy is #relatable, except that she also isn’t apologetic. So, there’s the camp of #relatable, which is like, “I’m the worst person: I can’t stop eating bread,” or “I can’t get out of bed,” and like, Nancy is that, but then she’s also like, “So what?” The kind of self-hating type that often comes with relatable comics. The self-hating part that often comes with #relatable comics is being like, “Ohhhh, I procrastinated, I’m the worst.” And “Nancy” adds one more panel to that, being like, “Who cares? I don’t care. More corn bread for me.”

On why Nancy is studying robotics:

I realized that all of the nouns that Nancy used to have are being supplanted by a phone. Things that she would have lying around the house to make up a joke are gone. She uses megaphones for a ton of things in Bushmiller’s strips, and I don’t have megaphones lying around my house. So how, then, can Nancy solve problems, given that technology is advancing to the point where problems are being solved in really nonphysical ways? That’s why I’m making her learn robotics. It opens up a wider range of visual gags to make down the line.

It’s been a long, long time since I read a daily comic strip. Probably The Boondocks in its heyday, or one of the Bloom County resurrections. But I read Nancy. It’s consistently warm, weird, current, and good.

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* Abe’s not actually my dad, it’s just a fun running gag between redheads