Rule of Three

By | Friday, December 08, 2023 Leave a Comment
I mentioned creating my own "funny pages" a few weeks ago, and I happened across a curious juxtaposition with it this morning. It currently displays Zippy the Pinhead just before Nancy. That was most arbitrary on my part. In fact, I had original Tundra between them but I'm having some trouble with the code for that so I just hid that strip a couple days ago. That turned out to be a bit fortuitous here as today's Zippy focuses on Ernie Bushmiller's notion of three rocks. Scott McCloud explained the idea thusly...
Much has been made of the "three rocks." Art Spiegelman explains how a drawing of three rocks in a background scene was Ernie's way of showing us there were some rocks in the background. It was always three. Why? Because two rocks wouldn't be "some rocks." Two rocks would be a pair of rocks. And four rocks was unacceptable because four rocks would indicate "some rocks" but it would be one rock more than was necessary to convey the idea of "some rocks."
Zippy cartoonist Bill Griffith is no stranger to the three rock idea, and he's used it many times in his own strip, usually labeling the rocks 1, 2, and 3 as he does here. In fact, just this past summer, Griffith had published a biography of Bushmiller called Three Rocks. He's clearly familiar with and appreciative of the concept, and is able to leverage it for the absuridity in his work.

But what I find particularly interesting here is not just that it pops up next to Nancy, who Ernie Bushmiller himself created back in 1938*, but that Nancy's current cartoonist Olivia Jaimes deliberately counters the 'three rocks' idea by drawing the character dealing with four icicles. Fritzi is clearly referring to the broad notion ("some") of the icicles outside in the first panel, and it's a perfect set-up for using Bushmiller's 'rule of three.' And while Jaimes does indeed put the focus on three of the icicles in the subsequent panels, they all each include a fourth -- cropped by clearly visible -- running along the left edge of each panel.

When Jaimes was hired, she was tasked with doing something noticeably different than Nancy's previous cartoonist Guy Gilchrist. Whether you like Jaimes' work more or less than Gilchrist's is immaterial here, as she has been delivering a very different Nancy than Gilchrist's. But she often does that by touching on some of the meta-concepts and absuridity that Bushmiller himself included in his original incarnation of the strip, so it's curious that she's actively going against Bushmiller's 'rule of three' idea here. Jaimes can't not be familiar with the idea and I find myself wondering why she elected to deliberately include that fourth icicle here. Not only would three have been sufficient for her joke, but it would've led to a more pleasing panel layout as the fourth icicle feels uncomfortably crammed against the panel borders.

Anyway, just a curious juxtaposition that Griffith is actively talking about Bushmiller's 'rule of three' right next to Jaimes actively rejecting it in the very strip that Bushmiller introduced the idea.

* Note: Bushmiller created the character of Nancy in 1933 for the strip Fritzi Ritz in 1933. Fritzi Ritz had been created by Larry Whittington in 1922, but Bushmiller took over the strip in 1925. The character of Nancy, once he introduced her, proved more popular than the title character and the strip's name and focus formally switched to Nancy in 1938.
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