Comic Spotlight: Deconstructing Nancy And Garfield With “Suspect Device”

I have owned and sold an incredible number of comics throughout the past quarter-century, but there are a few books that always seem to escape the purge. Among them are a number of self-pub comics created by artists within the greater Brooklyn-type area. (Copra #1—which I unexpectedly fetched upwards of $500 for on eBay—is not one I kept, but it was still a great comic. I just had bills to pay.)

Suspect Device, a mature-readers anthology created by Josh Bayer that ran in the mid-2010s, is one of the series always on my ever-evolving “keep” pile.

Suspect Device #1 cover by Kevin Scalzo

Part of that is because it’s brilliant, featuring work from talents such as Noah Van Sciver, Box Brown, Tom Hart, Pat Aulisio, and Bayer himself. And part of that is due to the nature of its format—bookending a story with actual panels from classic comic strips—I would suppose the reprint logistics would be a nightmare.

more Scalzo

As Bayer himself in the series’ third issue described the project, which emerged from cartooning classics he taught:

Suspect Device is a comic anthology series that involves collage. For each issue, I select an assortment of artists I like, and invite them to participate. I ask that the pages be made to fit a vertical 7.25 x 10.75 format, and I ask for the artist’s home address. I then usually cut out and photocopy frames from comic strips at random and mail them to the artist. I ask that they pick two frames, glue them at the START and FINISH, and create a new story in the gap between the two images. The result is what you see here.

#1 focused on nothing but Nancy strips, which was perfect because the simple charm and ubiquity of the Ernie Bushmiller character seems to lend itself to this sort of enterprise anyway. Here I’m thinking of the pop-art of Joe Brainard and Mark Newgarden’s classic “Love’s Savage Fury,” both starring Nancy & playfully remixing her in highly strange ways. And since the original Nancy often involved bizarre visuals to begin with, the bookending panels provide ample psychedelic inspiration for the artists in involved.

Josh Burggraf

Issue 2 combines Nancy with that other current colossus in the world of classic comic strip remixing: Garfield. This provides more of a challenge to the artists, as they must devise a narrative thread—however tenuous—to tie these two disparate concepts together.

One sequence by Josh Burggraf starts with Garfield & Jon staring at each other, only for their heads to slowly mutate into each other Cronenberg-like forming a creature that becomes Nancy. In another by Keenan Marshall Keller, Nancy, Sluggo, Garfield & Odie go off on a Manson-Family rampage (not unsurpringly, this ends bad for poor ol’ Jon).

Josh Bayer

Suspect Device #3 ditches the Nancy/Garfield stuff completely and starts fresh with Popeye & Little Orphan Annie panels. This topic change starts to move the series into more of “adventure strip” territory rather than gags, increasing the complexity of some of the narratives. Apparently issue 4—which I didn’t know even existed until researching this post—concentrates on The Phantom and Alley-Oop as well as more Annie & Popeye.

Sophie Goldstein

In terms of secondary market prices for these issues, they seem to run anywhere from $60 to cover price. As a footnote to my earlier comment on Copra #1, in my experience the back-issues that I’ve sold the most for on eBay have all been self-pubs from the same general creator milieu as Bayer, Michel Fiffe, Charles Forsman et al. Notions of crass capitalist comic speculation aside, I think that it’s a statement on just how much new life & new ideas these artists bring to what has become a somewhat calcified mainstream medium.