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CSBG Archive

365 Reasons to Love Comics #228

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.)

8/16/07

228. Little Nemo in Slumberland

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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.

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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.

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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.

19 Comments

Okay, let’s see Pogo next and all will be forgiven.

Sorry, didn’t mean for that to sound like a demand. Honestly, to each his own, my parents enjoy Zits, I didn’t find it funny even when I was a teen. Most of my peers think I’m crazy for enjoying Sherman’s Lagoon, but it still cracks me up.

Like beds could really walk like that! If this guy’s so good, why’re his panels all squished up together? And how come I can’t get no tang ’round here?!? Boo! Hiss!

The video game was based on the film version, and IT WAS HARD. No human being can beat that thing without a Game Genie.

Rarebit Fiend was awesome, by the way.

I might be off but didn’t this inspire the sequence in the Simpsons when Homer drifted into Slumberland after working two jobs to pay for Lisa’s pony?

Yes, on ‘The Simpsons’ DVDs they point that out.

Is it just me, or do the hand colours in these hundred year old strips look about a million times better than most of what’s out there these days?

excellent job, Bill. I only discovered Little Nemo about a year ago and I was amazed that something that looked this good had completely slipped my attention. The story is simplistic, but like you said it is the art that pulls this along into greatness. Great choice.

No arguments here. :) McCay is a legitimate master of the form.

However…just to keep this from deteriorating into a total nice-and-polite-fest, I’m still demanding Peanuts. Also, now that I think about it, Pogo. :)

Awesome choice. I remember the first time I came across McCay’s work- in the animated Rarebit Fiend- it blew my freaking mind.

Ray Bradbury was one of the (reportedly, very many) screenwriters on the 1989 animated film. By the way, there was one other film adaptation (arguably). The French film Nemo, made in 1984, “borrows” some key concepts from Little Nemo in Slumberland, but also diverges wildly from McKay’s work. More details:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0087784/

(Harvey Keitel, of all people, had a role in it…)

One very interesting thing about Little Nemo is that it was not very popular among readers in its day compared to Katzenjammer Kids. It was almost too sophisticated for children, I guess. Either way, it is amazing how well it stands up at almost a hundred years old.

My first exposure to Little Nemo was the NES game. And yes, that game was HARD. A lot of the early NES games were difficult, but nothing like that Nemo game. I was glad to get the Game Genie just so I could finlly see some other levels…

There was also an arcade game (which I’ve played through emulation). It’s not as hard as the NES game sounds, although having unlimited free continues does go a long way in that sort of game…

I’m totally holding out for The Yellow Kid.

Lil’ Abner is another must. You’ve opened Pandora’s Box, Bill!!!

I beat that game, sans Game Genie! It cost me all of about two months of one summer, but it was a pretty game. Once I learned it was a comic, I was off to the library… unfortunately, they didn’t have any of it. Thank Zeus for the Internet!

Have you seen it?

The most beautiful strip in the world…

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