Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Hypnotico Vamooso Skiddeeski Twentolio

Until somewhat recently, Winsor McCay had been an obscure figure beyond the cartoonists' buffalo lodge. He's gotten better play in the last few years, especially with the publication of the complete Nemo anthology at scale, but it will be a while yet before he's properly recognized as one of the most accomplished and significant American visual professionals. I'd say "artist," but for reasons I'll articulate in a coming post [on the subject of object taxonomies in the art industry] let's go with "cartoonist," for now anyway.

At the top of this post, a sequence of panels that anticipates McCay's work in animation, with a hilarious incantation by the scarlet magician fellow.

McCay is the creator of the most visually sophisticated comic strip to ever appear in mass circulation, "Little Nemo in Slumberland," whose glory years were with the New York Herald between 1906 and 1911, after which he moved to Heart's New York World and resumed the strip as "The Land of Wonderful Dreams." He went back to the Herald in 1914.

Above, a detail from a Nemo "strip" (odd to call it a strip, really, because it covered a broadsheet page and romped all over it, quite variably--McCay was a formal scientist as much as an entertainer with panache.) Below, the full feature in question. Not by the way a good example of the formal innovation to which I just referred.

McCay was also a pioneer of animation. Last September 11 in a somber mood I quoted his Sinking of the Lusitania (1918), a very affecting piece of propaganda, though dissimilar from his other animated works, which tend toward the vaudevillian, especially Gertie the Dinosaur (1914) and my favorite, How a Mosquito Operates.

At any rate, McCay passes the desert island test by a mile. I didn't bring any with me to this desert, but I surely would have if I were looking at a long term engagement. McCay pays dividends, as a draftsman and as a creator of adventurous fictions and oddball alienated fantasies.

: Winsor McCay, Little Nemo in Slumberland, New York Herald, detail, November 11, 1906; McCay, detail and full feature, date currently unavailable (away from my library); McCay, animation still, How a Mosquito Operates (1912).


herd.kill.sheep said...

Hey DB, just wanted to let you know I've been reading your blog religiously for a year now and I've never left a response. How rude of me - it's like eating dinner as a guest without saying how much I enjoyed the meal.

I blame Google Reader.

In any case, I wish you taught at my school and I love your blog.

DB Dowd said...

Hey HKS (charming pen name, truly) thanks for leaving a note. It's funny--I write this stuff and sometimes wonder if it's a bit silly to sink the time in. So it really does help to hear that you're a regular reader. You've made my day!

Any more about you? Which school, what area of study, etc.?


Scorcha said...

Aw, DB, you know your students are silently stalking you through your blog.

Hope you're enjoying your trip. Mexico was awesome, btw.