Some people have asked me where Nell came from. Nell, of course, is the unusual little girl that is at the center of my book of stories The Sun Zebra. Part of Nell comes from my real life daughter and my own experiences as a child, but I think another part comes from the comics I have read or watched on TV over the years.

There is a long tradition in the world of cartooning that involves viewing the complexity of the world of adults through the prism of precocious children in order to expose its follies. Let me take you on a tour of some of the influences that may be behind my Nell.

Little Lulu was created in 1935 by Marjorie Henderson Buell (Marge) and went on to become a hugely successful cartoon running for almost half a century in the nation's funny pages. Marge was also the first female cartoonist in the United States to achieve international success. Lulu is a lively and independent little girl who always outsmarted the boys (and sometimes the grownups) around her.
Nancy was introduced in 1933 by Ernie Bushmiller into the comic Fritzi Ritz which he inherited from Larry Whittington. Within a few years the character became so popular that the comic strip was renamed simply "Nancy" or later "Nancy and Sluggo", referencing her boy friend from "the wrong side of the tracks". At its peak in the seventies it ran in 800 plus newspapers and inspired artists such as Andy Warhol. Nancy always found the funny and the unusual in everyday things.
The comic strip Peanuts created by Charles Shultz was one of the most influential and longest running in the United States (from 1950 to 2000). It has become an American icon popularizing terms like "security blanket" and metaphors regarding someone removing the ball just when you are about to kick it. In the strip the children interact with adults that are never seen but they mostly interact with each other in a manner that constantly shifts from child- to adult-like behavior and back.
Lesser known in the States but very popular in Latin America and Europe is the comic strip "Mafalda" drawn in Argentina from 1964 to 1973 by cartoonist Joaquín Salvador Lavado better known by his pen name "Quino." Mafalda is a soup-hating shrewd little girl concerned about the state of the world and her country. She often rattles her parent's nerves with age-inappropriate questions (e.g. "Daddy, what is a sex maniac?") and mixes with a band of friends of very unique idiosyncrasies. For example one of her friends "Libertad" (Spanish for liberty) is a tiny girl. When Libertad meets someone she asks, "Have you drawn your stupid conclusion? Everyone who meets me draws their stupid conclusion." The strip often addressed contemporary issues like those stemming from the conflict between communism and democracy.
Bill Watterson's strip Calvin & Hobbes about a hyperkinetic albeit imaginative kid and his alter ego tiger ran from 1985 to 1996 in the United States. Calvin is the quintessential brat who strains the nerves of his suffering parents. His only friend is a stuffed tiger that comes to life when no one is looking. Despite being a child Calvin often wrestles with extremely grownup themes which often end up parodied in one way or another.
The Simpsons created by Matt Groening in 1987 needs no introduction. It's the most popular and longest running animated sitcom in the United States. The character I like is Lisa. She is a level headed precocious girl who often acts as the only voice of rationality amidst the utter chaos generated by her brat of a brother and the incompetent grownups around her.

My Nell is concerned about the how and why of things like Lisa or Mafalda, she has a great imagination like Calvin, and she can display a combination of traits of both an adult and a child like Little Lulu, Nancy, or any of the characters in Peanuts. But I think Nell is more subtle. This may be because I am not constrained to delivering a gag in a small amount of panels. Or it may be because when you write a story, as oppose to drawing the characters, you can rely on the reader's imagination to fill in the blanks. I think Nell is different because first and foremost she remains a child.

Check out my e-book The Sun Zebra It's a quick and inspiring read, and it will be free from November 17 to 18 on Amazon.

 


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