Little Nemo by Winsor McCay
Little Nemo in Slumberland (28 April 1907)

Winsor McCay was one of the founding fathers of the US newspaper comic. His 'Little Nemo in Slumberland' Sunday page, with its world of magic, fantasy and dreams, visual virtuosity and inventive use of frames and page lay-out has not been equaled. But also McCay's other comics, like 'Dreams of a Rarebit Fiend' still stand out for their originality and artistic quality. In addition, McCay was a pioneer in animation art as well, and his 1909 film 'Gertie the Dinosaur' stands as the first commercial successful animated cartoon.

Little Nemo in Slumberland (29 October 1905)
Little Nemo in Slumberland (29 October 1905)

McCay was born in Spring Lake, Michigan on 26 September, 1869. He never completed grade school, but received some early art instruction from one of his teachers. After going to Chicago at age seventeen (to draw posters and take more art lessons), and then to Cincinnati in 1891, McCay started his long newspaper career in 1897, first with the Cincinnati Times-Star. Then he worked with the (Cincinnati) Commercial Tribune, and finally with the Enquirer, where he created his first Sunday color feature, 'Tales of the Jungle Imps', a page of poems and cartoons about wild animals, of which 43 episodes were published in 1903. During this period, he also freelanced for Life magazine.

Dream of the Rarebit Fiend

McCay came to New York at the end of 1903 to work on the Evening Telegram, where he created (under the pseudonym Silas) a number of strips, including 'Dull Care', 'Poor Jake', and best of all, 'Dreams of a Rarebit Fiend', in 1904.

Hungry Henrietta, by Winsor McCay 1905
Hungry Henrietta (1905)

Under his own name, for the parent company New York Herald newspaper, McCay created 'Little Sammy Sneeze' (1904), 'Hungry Henrietta' (1905) (just like every 'Little Nemo' ended with Nemo waking up, 'Sammy Sneeze' ended with Sammy sneezing and 'Hungry Henrietta' with Henrietta eating), 'Sister's Little Sister's Beau' (1905), and others.

Little Sammy Sneeze by Winsor McCay
Little Sammy Sneeze (9 November 1904)

McCay began his masterpiece, 'Little Nemo in Slumberland', in October, 1905, and it was serialized in the New York Herald until 1911. Notable about most of McCay's strips is that the main characters have no leading role in it, the events are merely happening around them.

Little Nemo by Winsor McCay
Little Nemo in Slumberland (13 September 1908)

In 1909, McCay started a parallel career in animated cartoons, producing 'Little Nemo' (based on the strip), 'How a Mosquito Operates', and 'Gertie, the Trained Dinosaur', which created a sensation when it was released. In 1917, McCay produced the film cartoon, 'The Sinking of the Lusitania', and in 1920, his last work in the animation field, 'The Flying House', was released.

Little Nemo by Winsor McCay
Little Nemo in Slumberland (3 December 1905)

Then Winsor McCay made a move all too familiar for comic artists of that time, when he quit working for the Herald and moved to the New York American (of newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst).

Little Nemo in Slumberland (22 July 1906)
Little Nemo in Slumberland (22 July 1906)

At the American, he did several comics, including a new version of 'Little Nemo' titled 'The Land of Wonderful Dreams'. But in the new version, although McCay's art grew ever more beautiful, a lot of McCay's inventiveness seems to have gone.

Political cartoon by Winsor McCay
Political cartoon

Luckily, McCay's contract with Hearst expired in 1924, so McCay quickly went back to the Herald to have one last crack at 'Little Nemo'. Unfortunately, McCay never finished this series, and it was stopped in 1926. He then did press illustrations for the Hearst papers until his death in 1934. In the late 1930s and 1940s, McCay's son Robert tried to revive 'Little Nemo' through the Chesler shop and comic books, but with little success.

Little Nemo by Winsor McCay
Little Nemo (1910)

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