|July 31, 1910|
“To sleep, perchance to dream,” the Bard said. One thinks of sleeping and dreaming to be pleasant, restorative, and delightful. But not all dreams are to one’s liking. Horrifying nightmares aside, some dreams are surreal and unreal. Like Little Nemo in Slumberland.
A masterpiece of comic strip art, Little Nemo was painstakingly illustrated by cartoonist and animator Winsor McCay. Featuring a lad named Nemo (Latin for “no one”), there was not really a plot to the strip, other than his nightly phantasmagorical dreams. Even though it was a comic strip, it was not about a child’s simple dreams. It was often dark and sometimes violent. Each strip ended in Nemo waking up, often after falling out of bed.
|September 6, 1906|
The premise of the strip is Nemo has been summoned by King Morpheus to go to Slumberland and be a playmate for his daughter, the Princess. Nemo’s friend, Flip, is a clown and distracts Nemo in the beginning, but ends up being Nemo’s buddy and assists him. The Imp appears to help Nemo as well.
Certain episodes are famous. The “Night of the Living Houses” is reported to be the first comic strip to be collected by the Louvre. The “Walking Bed” shows Nemo and his sidekick Flip traveling over the rooftops while riding Nemo’s bed. Then there is the “Befuddle Hall” sequence, where Nemo and his pals try finding their way out of a funhouse. McCay’s draughtsman skills are superb in this strip, and he uses his mastery of perspective to create a graphically excellent strip of a Beaux Arts interior. The dialogue is delivered deadpan which adds to its eccentricity.
The strip was not particularly a success in its time, but has received more and more attention as the decades go by. His intricate and details backgrounds and vivid colors are incredible. Little Nemo ended up making a big impact on the comic strip, influencing comic artists that followed him.
The strip ran from October 15, 1905 to April 23, 1911 in the New York Herald. The Herald at that time had an extremely creative and talented color printing staff, which clearly shows in the strip. When the Herald refused to let Windsor take time off, he waited out his contract and went to work for Hearst’s New York American. Since the Herald owned the name, McCay changed the title to In the Land of Wonderful Dreams. But the coloring wasn’t up to par, and he began devoting time to animation. His inattentiveness to the strip shows, but his editorial cartoons flourished.
|July 10, 1910|
On December 13, 1913, he was ordered to quit the comic strip and focus on editorial work. His interactive animation career (see tomorrow’s post), consisting of vaudeville bookings, began to thrive until Hearst put the word out that he preferred that McCay was not to be booked. In 1924, he left Hearst and returned to the Herald Tribune to revive Little Nemo, but it didn’t catch on. Proof of how much this strip was undervalued was when the Herald Tribune allowed McCay to purchase all rights for $1.
His influence on other authors is undeniable. Maurice Sendak claimed Little Nemo was the inspiration for his book In the Night Kitchen. Bill Watterston’s Calvin and Hobbes also was fostered by McCay. A parody of Little Nemo, “Little Neuro”, features a lad who never leaves his bed, appears in the strip Cul de Sac.
Despite the barriers that he struggled with he managed to pursue his art and make a lasting impression. Little Nemo was not syndicated, yet achieved a modicum of success for a comic strip. The original strip only ran for six years, but it’s become much-loved classic and set the bar for future strips.
|October 27, 1907|
***************Fantagraphics Books published a six volume set of Little Nemo in Wonderland in 1998.
Check out this site for excellent reproductions of the strip - used in this post.