the exclusive interview by Chris T.
Lewis Carroll created a fantastic world peopled with strange inhabitants
and sent a little girl named Alice down a rabbit hole into its midst.
Many of us are surprised when we discover there was an actual Alice, and
Carroll created the Wonderland stories for her and her young friends'
The South Bronx is a long way from Victorian England but for
cartoonist Ernie Bushmiller the distance was not so great. Though his
drawing style is now considered a classic expression of form following
function it was Carroll's intricate illustrations for "Alice" that
convinced Bushmiller to become an artist. In the mid '20's he went
searching for a young girl around whom he could build another strange
world and he found her--Nancy Carbonaro of 137th St.
Her story has remained untold--until now.
Through the diligent efforts of cartoonist Mark Newgarden the
real Nancy has been found. Nestled in the wilderness of Wappinger's
Falls, New York, she passes her remaining days quietly unaware of the
cult status her cartoon counterpart has achieved. She granted LCD a
brief interview on one condition: her age or birthdate not be revealed.
LCD: How did you meet Ernie Bushmiller?
NANCY: He had an interest in my older sister. He was soft on her. She
was quite attractive but not interested in him. She thought he was silly.
LCD: So he would come over the house? Did he ask her out?
NANCY: Oh no, no. Back then you didn't ask a girl out. You courted her
and always in the presence of a parent or chaperone. The furthest he
ever got in my house was the foyer. My father refused to have him inside.
LCD: Why was that?
NANCY: He didn't think that anyone who drew cartoons as a living could
ever support himself, never mind a wife and family. He didn't want to
encourage anything between my sister and Mr. Bushmiller.
LCD: How did you and Ernie come to be friends?
NANCY: He was trying to get information out of me--about my sister.
Find out if any of the neighborhood boys were interested in her or if she
gave a fig about him. I told him I'd tell him for an ice cream sundae so
he took me to Jahn's for the Kitchen Sink.
LCD: I'm assuming Jahn's was an ice cream parlor but what was the
NANCY: It was a huge bowl filled with every kind of ice cream, every
kind of syrup, every kind of topping you can imagine. It was meant for
four people but I wanted it for myself. It cost nearly three dollars! I
still remember Mr. Bushmiller's face when they set it down in front of
me. He said, "You can't eat that all" and I said "I can and I shall."
And I did. I was a fat little girl.
LCD: What about the hairdo and the bow? Was that yours or did Ernie
come up with that?
NANCY: No, that was my hair. That still is my hair. It's always been
curly and unruly. The bow was my mother's attempt at making me more
feminine. I was a tomboy.
LCD: Did Ernie tell you he wanted to make you a cartoon character?
NANCY: Not as such. He had a notebook with him all the time and he was
always writing down things I'd say. He was writing a comic strip called
"Fritzi Ritz" and it was about the romantic misadventures of a young
woman and there was a character in there called "Phil Fumble"...
LCD: Wasn't "Phil Fumble" actually Ernie?
NANCY: Yes, he was. He was a suitor, and if I can recall correctly, an
unsuccessful one. Then later on Nancy appeared as Fritzi's niece. I
didn't like that.
NANCY: Because I felt Mr. Bushmiller was making fun of me somehow. I
felt he was holding me up to public ridicule. He could've changed my
name--I mean the cartoon character's name--but he didn't.
LCD: Did you ever ask him why he didn't use another name?
NANCY: Yes, I did. He said he wanted to impress my father. Show him
that he was a success. It didn't work, though. My father disliked him
even more and forbid me to see him. We used to go to Jahn's every Sunday
and Mr. Bushmiller would ask me about my week and take notes and I could
order anything I cared to.
LCD: And he would use events from your life in the comic strip?
NANCY: Yes. Constantly.
LCD: Can you recall any specific examples?
NANCY: There was one or two about Modern Art that came out many years
after we were no longer speaking. That was based on a trip to the 1939
World's Fair with my parents. They had one building and the outside was
designed by that Salvador Dali fellow. I hated it. It made me nauseous. I
spoke to Mr. Bushmiller about it and he took some of my comments and used
LCD: Did he ever speak to you about compensation of any kind?
NANCY: Not to me but to my father. He tried writing a letter but my
father tore it into pieces. The subject never came up again. Once when
I was in college he made quite a sizeable payment on my tuition without
my knowledge. I didn't know who the anonymous benefactor was for years.
I suspected, though.
LCD: What about Sluggo? Was there a real Sluggo?
NANCY: No. I was far too young to be seeing anyone. I was a shy child
with no friends. Sluggo was Nancy with no hair and a different nose. I
think Sluggo was based on Mr. Bushmiller more than anyone else. At a
certain point, after I had become a woman, he developed a crush on me,
Mr. Bushmiller, not Sluggo. I think Sluggo was his way of having a
relationship with me because I wasn't interested in him. He was much
older than me.
LCD: When was the last time you spoke to Ernie?
NANCY: He phoned me a few months before he died in 1984. He called me
his "Alice." It wasn't until few years ago I realized what he meant. I
thought he was talking about "Alice" the waitress on that TV show.
LCD: Thank you so much.
NANCY: Thank you. Goodbye.