Wow, Comic Strip Week has seen the most controversy yet! I thought these entries would barely get any comments… shows what I know. People are quite passionate about the comic strip medium. I can’t see anyone arguing with today’s entry, however, unless they slept through their comics history. (Perchance to archive.)
228. Little Nemo in Slumberland
Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland (a.k.a. In the Land of Wonderful Dreams) is an artistically brilliant comic strip masterpiece. I can’t see anyone arguing with this one. Can I? We’ll see.
McCay, as we know, was an artistic genius. He did, after all, create one of the first animated films (and definitely the first really good one, in Gertie the Dinosaur), and demonstrated his mastery of style and the comics form in such strips as Little Sammy Sneeze and Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend, among others. It’s Little Nemo in Slumberland, however, that serves as his masterwork.
The strip ran from 1905 to 1914, and again from 1924 to ’26. It was about a boy named Nemo and the events that occurred within his dreams. McCay brought a magical energy to the strip, filling it with surreal imagery and mad adventure and fantasy, with King Morpheus, the Princess, and a host of other remarkable and fascinating characters.
The art really sells the strip, though. Intricately beautiful and elegantly detailed, it reflected the dreamlike nature of Slumberland. Nemo and friends were transformed, quite literally, grown and shrunk and blown up, at the whims of the dreamscape. The strip was an imaginative tour-de-force, and McCay handled it with astonishing skill. Have a look at the images in this post and decide for yourself. I believe that it’s some of the finest sequential art ever– and it was published a century ago.
My God, if only comic strips could be like this again, filled with wonder, imagination, and strangeness, opening up whole new worlds with each installment. Winsor McCay was a visionary artist who brought a stunning fantasy to the hearts and minds of his readers. I’m extremely glad that we’re still appreciating his work a hundred years later. Now that’s staying power.
McCay’s son attempted a revival of the strip that didn’t last through the 1940s. Much more recently, an animated movie and video game (for the original NES) were produced. When the strip was still running, there was also, I kid you not, an opera. Sweet.
The strip has now fallen into the public domain, and there are a couple collections housing the entire original run. One such book is the “So Many Splendid Sundays” collection. The website for that can be found here; it provides many more delicious art samples. Also, I’d like to point you to brilliant comic critic Douglas Wolk’s terrific Nemo article. Good reading. And for a biographical article on Winsor McCay himself, try this site.