NANCY DREW, COMIC BOOK DETECTIVE
A History of America's Favorite Teen Sleuth in Comic Books
By Todd H. Latoski
Nancy Drew is a pop culture icon familiar to just about anyone who has ever thought about or heard of a female detective. Over the years, she has appeared in many forms. Books. Films. Television. Puzzles. Coloring books. Computer games. Madame Alexander and Tonner dolls. Paper dolls. Any book, movie, or television show about a female detective is bound, at some point, to compare her to Nancy Drew. So, when Simon & Schuster revitalized the Nancy Drew books in 2004 with its Girl Detective series, it seemed only natural for Nancy to break her way into a new realm - comic books! Papercutz, a small independent publisher who, at the time, was new on the scene, introduced fans to a whole new version of Nancy Drew as written by Stefan Petrucha and drawn by Sho Murase. For many fans, this was the first time Nancy Drew was depicted in four-color, sequential art stories. Looking back, however, one might be surprised to find that Nancy Drew has appeared in various comic formats for more than forty years!
Nancy Drew's first comic appearance was actually not in the United States, where she was created. In 1969, nearly forty years after her first books hit the shelves, a Dutch girls' magazine called Tina published a weekly serial titled "Nancy Drew en haar dubbelgangster" (translated, "Nancy and Her Double"), which was told in five installments. Each installment consisted of two pages with full-color drawn panels and blocks of text under each. The art was by Bert Bus, a Dutch artist who also provided covers for the Nancy Drew books published by N.V. Uitgeverij de Spaarnestad.
Nancy Drew's next comic book appearance was once again outside of the United States, this time in Great Britain. In 1979, ten years after the Dutch comic strip, Grandreams, Ltd. of London published the first Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew Mysteries annual. The hardcover book was based upon the television show of the same name, and featured articles and photographs of Parker Stevenson, Shaun Cassidy, and Pamela Sue Martin as the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. In addition, the book featured four six-page comic stories, two starring the Hardy Boys (one color, one black & white) and two starring Nancy Drew (one color, one black & white). The first Nancy Drew comic story, "The Marina Mystery," has Nancy searching for stolen outboard motors, while the second story, "The Phantom Flyer," finds Nancy fighting a ghostly pilot while searching for fossils. The annual did not list any credits for the author and artist, but research reveals that Steve Moore wrote the strips, while Spanish artist Vicente Torregrosa provided the art.
The next year, Grandreams, Ltd. published a second Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew Mysteries annual, which featured two new Nancy Drew comic stories (one in color, one in black & white), as well as a third prose story with art. The first comic mystery was "The Case of the Muddy Pants," where Nancy assists her father (interestingly drawn as a bald man with a beard, completely unlike the William Schallert version of the television show) in convicting a mob gang. The second mystery, "The Ghost of Gravesdyke Grange," puts Nancy back in her element revealing the truth behind a haunted mansion. Steve Moore was once again the writer on the two strips, while British artist David Lloyd did the art (and that's the same David Lloyd who later made a name for himself with his work on V for Vendetta). The prose story tells the tale of a haunted lighthouse that bears a striking resemblance in many ways to the first episode of the television series, "The Mystery of Pirate's Cove."
While the Hardy Boys appeared in American comics as early as 1970 (based upon the animated series on television at the time), Nancy Drew's first comic book appearance in the United States did not come until 1983 with the October issue of Ms. Tree. A pulp-style crime comic by bestselling author Max Allan Collins, each issue of Ms. Tree featured a lead story starring the title character, with back-up stories of The Scythe and Mike Mist Minute Mist-eries. The first four issues of the series also featured "Frank Miller's Famous Detective Pin-Up," a two-page centerfold spread with artist Frank Miller (yes, THAT Frank Miller) providing his own unique depictions of some of the greatest detectives. Issue four featured a centerfold of Nancy Drew, described as "the daring teenage daughter of lawyer Carson Drew." It featured information on the page about Edward Stratemeyer's creation of the character, as well as his daughter Harriet's involvement in continuing the series upon Edward's death.
It wasn't until February 2005 that fans in the United States got their first taste of Nancy Drew in full-length comic book stories when Papercutz introduced a series of graphic novels based on the new Nancy Drew, Girl Detective series. The series ran for 21 books, and each came in paperback and hardcover format. The art for the series featured the unique style of Sho Murase (as well as fill-in artist Vaughn Ross), which was more similar to the popular manga style of comics today than the standard American comic art. There were a few special books, including the third story, "The Haunted Dollhouse," which was a 75th anniversary tribute to Nancy Drew and featured references to many of her original mysteries. The last two books in the series guest-starred the Dana Girls, who haven't been seen or mentioned since 1980 in Nancy Drew's The Flying Saucer Mystery. (The Dana Girls were the stars of a series of children's mysteries that were published under the penname of Carolyn Keene, the author of the Nancy Drew series.)
That series ended with the 21st book and was re-booted with the new Nancy Drew: The New Case Files series. Only three graphic novels were published in this second series, which featured a mystery that was not only ripped from the popularity of today's vampire fad, but also featured the first comic book crossover with the Hardy Boys in the third (and final) book. Sho Murase continued with the art chores, while original writers Stefan Petrucha and Sarah Kinney wrote the first two books of this series and long-time comic book writer Gerry Conway stepped in to pen the third book.
Many fans wondered if the cancellation of The New Case Files signaled the end of Nancy Drew comics. Such is not the case. Nancy Drew and her friends have returned in yet another comic book incarnation, this time based on the successful Nancy Drew and the Clue Crew, which is a Simon & Schuster series aimed at younger readers.
In this new series, Papercutz opens up the Drew family's top-secret case files once again to reveal the mysteries that abounded in River Heights when Nancy was only eight-years-old. Her best friends George, Bess, and Ned are still helping her out, and their friendship is almost as important to solving the middle-grade crimes as their unparalleled smarts. Veteran Nancy Drew scribes Stefan Petrucha and Sarah Kinney are back, picking up their magnifying glasses, fingerprint kits, and pens to tell the tales once again, and Gold Key Hall of Fame award-winner Stan Goldberg is making them shine with his tween-tastic illustrations. Stan is doing the best work of his long and storied career, and Papercutz is proud to have him.
The first mystery, Small Volcanoes, debuted in October and has Nancy, Bess, and George staying after class to figure out who stole all of their classmates' science projects. While the 48-page story may seem tame to many "mystery" fans, Petrucha and Kinney do a fantastic job of keeping the story in the spirit of Nancy Drew (with Nancy's levelheadedness, determination, and deductive skills), while maintaining a level of believability for younger readers as to what an eight-year-old Nancy could really do.
And Papercutz definitely made a solid choice in Stan Goldberg as the artist for the series. Goldberg's style meshes well with the story's humor and light-heartedness, and at the same time, it gives Nancy and her friends a whole new look. Admittedly, the Clue Crew's science teacher bears a distinct resemblance to the more recognizable eighteen-year-old Nancy Drew, and the younger Nancy's shortened hair is a bit harsh at times; but overall, Goldberg's distinct style for the characters is certain to develop more as the series continues.
The second book in the series, Secret Sand Sleuths, is due out in January. As with the previous series, Papercutz offers each book in both paperback and hardcover formats, so fans have their choice. More information about the Nancy Drew graphic novels can be found at the Papercutz website, www.papercutz.com.
[Some material in this article was previously published in a special Web Con 2012 issue of THE SLEUTH]
Todd H. Latoski/Writer
Todd was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky, but moved to Florida back in the late 1980s. Todd grew up reading comics and have always been a fanboy. Working in the legal field by day and writing his heart out at night (with three published comic stories to date, and one more in the works),Todd has been doing MegaCon coverage for several years and looks forward to doing so for many years go come.
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