Daydreams & Nightmares: The Fantastic Visions of Winsor McCay - ed. Richard Marschall

The greatest contributing factor to my success was an absolute craving to draw pictures all the time. ... I did not do this just to amuse some one else or to show off how good I could draw. I drew alone to please myself.

Winsor McCay was the creator of the turn-of-the-century comic strip "Little Nemo in Wonderland," a masterpiece of the imagination that has yet to be equalled. But besides drawing these oversized (and intricately detailed) pages, he also did editorial cartoons, pioneered animated cartoons, and penned several other smaller strips (such as "Little Sammy Sneeze"). This book is a collection of some of his black and white work, prefaced with some essays on McCay and two pieces by him.

In one piece, entitled "From Sketchbook to Animation," written in 1927, McCay relates his discovery and invention of cartoon animation, inspired by flip-books his son brought home. His first animation, involving Little Nemo characters, was declared to be photographs of real children. He stepped up the absurdity with a giant mosquito, which was explained away as being controlled by wires. Finally, he created Gertie the dinosaur, in which the dinosaur tore up trees, threw an elephant into a lake, and did commands. McCay finally convinced his audiences that these were, in fact, illustrations.

There are several types of cartoons in this book, including the "Dreams of a Rarebit Fiend" series, a precursor to "Little Nemo." These are also dream sequences, always ending with somebody waking up and commenting about the strange dreams brought on by eating rarebit (or rabbit, or ice cream, or caviar). "Little Sammy Sneeze" is a little boy who sneezes spectacularly in the penultimate frame, inevitably ruining whatever is going on at the time. There are also editorial cartoons, imaginative "what-if" scenarios of the future, and something like single-panel cartoon sermons. All of them have McCay's incredible eye for detail, perspective, and majestic scale.

The only major flaw with McCay (both here and in "Little Nemo") is the dialogue. Of course, this was still early in the history of comics, so perhaps speech bubbles were still very counterintuitive at the time. A line of speech ends mid-sentence and continues in the next panel; speech is peppered with incomplete phrases and punctuated with "Oh!" or "Um!" as necessary to fill the space of the balloons. Still, the humor is generally in the images and the dialogue is almost superfluous in some cases.

It's a great collection of McCay's work and offers some insight into his thoughts and motivations.

Fed to jonathan's brain | June 20, 2006 | Comments (0)


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