The Bad Dream That Made Bill A Better Boy, by William Steinigan (1907)
The Bad Dream That Made Bill A Better Boy (22 July 1906)

William Steinigans was an early 20th-century American comics artist. He is best remembered for his long-running newspaper comic 'The Bad Dream That Made Bill A Better Boy' (1905-1911), often shortened to 'Bill's Bad Dream'. The Winsor McCayesque narratives were moralistic stories about a young boys' dreams and visualized with the same imaginative flair. Steinigans drew several other more short-lived comics for the papers of newspaper tycoon Joseph Pulitzer. A recurring element in his work was the use of cute puppy dogs.

William John Steinigans was born in 1878 in Connecticut as the son of a knife maker of German descent. By 1901 Steinigans worked in Meriden, Connecticut, as a clerk. Within the next four years he moved to New York City, where he became a cartoonist for The New York World, a newspaper owned by Joseph Pulitzer. Pulitzer's papers were in a bitter rivalry with William Randolph Hearst's papers and this was also visible in their comics sections. Whenever one of them had a succesful comics series running, the other newspaper tycoon had to either buy the artist out and/or at least create a comic strip which ripped the other one off. One of Hearst's most talented artists was Winsor McCay, who drew various imaginative comics about people having bad dreams. On 13 August 1905 Gene Carr created a comic strip around a similar concept for the St. Louis Dispatch, 'The Bad Dream That Made Bill A Better Boy' (1905-1911), later often shortened to 'Bill's Bad Dream'. But Carr left the comic to Steinigans, who'd continue it from 27 August 1905 on until 16 April 1911. Each episode featuring a young boy, Bill, having a wild nightmare from which he awoke in fright. Typically he'd learn a valuable moral through this opinion-changing dream. Many observers have noted the similarities between this comic strip and McCay's far more famous 'Little Nemo In Slumberland' (1905-1926) and assume that Steinigans imitated him. In reality 'Little Nemo' debuted nearly two months after 'The Dream That Made Bill a Better Boy', namely on 15 October 1905. But after 'Little Nemo' appeared in the print Steinigans clearly started mimicking much of McCay's lay-outs and visual execution.

Between 12 August 1908 and 16 April 1911, Steinigans made a comic strip about a little dog, 'Pups'. A daily version probably ran longer. 'Pups' was replaced by 'Splinters', another comic strip with a cute canine, which ran between 23 April 1911 and 27 October 1912. It was a pantomime comic featuring a clown, Splinters, and his small dog. After a few episodes it became a more dialogue-heavy comic. 'Splinters' ran both in the Sunday funnies Funny Side and on irregular basis in Fun, a supplement of The New York World. The comic strip may have been an inspiration for Max Fleischer's 'Koko the Klown' animated cartoon series from the silent era, which also starred a similarly dressed tall clown and his puppy dog.

From November 1911 until October 1912 Steinigans had a Sunday comic strip named 'Grimes's Goat', which was followed by 'Mister Hubby' (1 September 1912 - 17 December 1916). Among the many short-lived features by Steinigans were 'Louie Unt Chalkie' (August-October 1904), 'Home Life At The Zoo' (October-December 1904), 'Sprinty' (January-February 1905), 'Professor Witzz the Magician' (January-May 1906), 'If' (September-October 1906), 'Mister Thompson's Night Out' (February-April 1907), 'Calamity Jane' (May-June 1907), 'Cousin Hank' (August-September 1908) and 'Petey Pupp' (April 1912).

Around the same time the artist was also active at the School of Practical Illustrating in New York City, where he and comics legend George McManus gave lessons in cartooning. He and Vet Anderson also taught similar courses at the National School of Art on Broadway. Unfortunately Sheinigans' health wasn't very good. In 1913 doctors informed him that it would be better to move to California, rather than stay in New York City which would be hazardous for his medical condition. Five years later, in 1918 he passed away. He was just 39 years old.

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Ink Slinger profile on the Stripper's Guide

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