Tuesday, August 19, 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.

Images
: 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).

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