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10 Vintage 1918-1929 Winsor Mccay Exceptional 'political Cartoons' Full Pages For Sale
10 vintagenewspaper pages
by Winsor McCay
each about 16 x 19 inches
from bound newspaper volumes
numerous smalldefects and blemishes, mostly along edges -
drawings are various sizes and in 'Very Good' shape
Little Nemo is the main fictional character in a series of weekly comic strips by Winsor McCay that appeared in the New York Herald newspaper from October 15, 1905 – July 23 and in William Randolph Hearst's New York American newspaper from 1911 – July 26, 1914.
The strip was first called Little Nemo in Slumberland and then In the Land of Wonderful Dreams when it changed papers. A brief revival of the original title occurred from 1924 to 1927.
The original set-up of the comic revolved around the nightly dreams of a little boy named Nemo (meaning "nobody" in Latin). The purpose of his early dreams was to reach 'Slumberland', the realm of King Morpheus, who wanted him as a playmate for his daughter, Princess Camille. The last panel in each strip was always one of Nemo waking up, usually in or near his bed, and often being scolded (or comforted) by one of the grownups of the household after crying out in his sleep and waking them. In the earliest strips, the dream event that woke him up would always be some mishap or disaster that seemed about to lead to serious injury or death, such as being crushed by giant mushrooms, being turned into a monkey, falling from a bridge being held up by slaves, or gaining 90 years in age. Later on, when Nemo finally did reach Slumberland, he was constantly being woken up by Flip, a character who originally wore a hat that had 'Wake Up' written on it. Flip would go on to be one of the comic's seminal characters. Other notable recurring characters included: Dr. Pill, The Imp, the Candy Kid and Santa Claus as well as the Princess and King Morpheus.
Although a comic strip, it was far from a simple children's fantasy; it was often dark, surreal, threatening, and even violent.
The "Slumberland" of the title soon acquired a double meaning, referring not only to Morpheus's fairy kingdom, but to the state of sleep itself: Nemo would have dream-adventures in other imaginary lands, on the Moon and Mars, and in our own "real" world, made fantastic by the dream-state.
The surreal fantasy of the strip was a contrast to the slapstick antics of other strips of the time, such as Katzenjammer Kids, Happy Hooligan, Buster Brown, and Krazy Kat. During the late 20th and early 21st centuries, the strip received renewed recognition and attention. In 1966 Woody Gelman discovered many of the original strips at a cartoon studio where McCay's son worked. Many of the original drawings that Gelman recovered were displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art under the direction of curator A. Hyatt Mayor. In 1973, Gelman would publish a collection of Little Nemo strips in Italy. Among the most noticeable of its qualities were its intricate visual style – often with high levels of background detail – its vivid colours, fast pace of movement from panel to panel and the huge variety of strange characters and scenery.
Certain episodes of the strip are particularly famous. These include the Night of the Living Houses wherein Nemo and a friend are chased down a city street by a gang of tenement houses on legs; the Walking Bed, in which Nemo and Flip ride over the rooftops on the increasingly long limbs of Nemo's bed (see illustration); and the Befuddle Hall sequence, wherein Nemo and his friends attempt to find their way out of a funhouse environment of a Beaux-Arts interior turned topsy-turvy. McCay's mastery of perspective, and the extreme elegance of his line work, make his visions graphically wondrous. The eccentric dialogue is delivered in a dreamy deadpan, and often appears to be hastily jammed into tiny word balloons that can scarcely contain it. A typical line: "Whoever named this place Befuddle Hall knew his business! I am certainly befuddled."
The strips, along with most of the rest of McCay's works, fell into the public domain in most of the world on January 1, 2005, 70 years after McCay's death (see Copyright and the EU's Directive harmonizing the term of copyright protection for details). All of the works published before 1923 are in the public domain in the United States. The complete set of Little Nemo strips is available in a single volume from Taschen: Little Nemo 1905–1914 (ISBN 3-8228-6300-9), leaving out only the later revival from the 1920s, which is still under copyright in the U.S.
110 of the most famous strips have been reprinted in their original size and colors in the 2005 collection Little Nemo in Slumberland, So Many Splendid Sundays (ISBN 978-0-9768885-9-8), a 16×21 inch hardcover book from Sunday Press Books and its sequel the 2008 collection Little Nemo in Slumberland, Many More Splendid Sundays, Volume 2 (ISBN 978-0976888550) with 110 more images.
The walking bed, July 26, 1908
An 'operatic spectacle' was based on the strip, with music by Victor Herbert (composer of Babes in Toyland) and lyrics by Harry B. Smith. This lavish production opened on October 20, 1908 in the New Amsterdam Theatre in New York, ran for 111 performances, and closed January 23, 1909. The opera introduced a new character called 'the dancing missionary', who was to appear in several episodes of the comic strip during 1909, and the word whiffenpoof.
In spring 2007, an operatic adaptation of the comic strip was announced to be presented in spring 2009 by the Sarasota Opera, composed by the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Ned Rorem. However, on July 20, 2008, he announced that he would not be able to complete it. In January 2010, the company announced that New York composer Daron Hagen and librettist Sandy McClatchy would create the work instead. It will be given its premiere in November 2012 by the Sarasota Youth Opera. The Princess, as Adriana Fernandez,in World Premiere, and KC Herbert, the following day. Pablo Gonzalez as the lead role, and the first role as "Nemo" and Katherine Powell as the following "Nemo" the next day. Sophia Materson as "Flip" and Natalie Almeter as the following "Flip"
Toronto based theatre company Frolick adapted the Little Nemo in Slumberland comic strip for presentation at the Lagoon Theatre, Olympic Island, Toronto Islands running from July 1 until August 26, 2012 under the title "Adventures in Slumberland". The presentation includes giant puppets, smaller puppets, masks, stilts and original art and music. Artistic director Matthew Krist and director Amira Emma Routledge adapted the scripts into a four-part series featuring characters and plot points from the first 25 comics along with the company.
James Stuart Blackton and Winsor McCay directed a ten-minute short film based on the comic strip, of which two minutes were animated. The film was first released on April 8, 1911. The first animated effort of McCay, it later achieved the status of an early animated classic. Its on screen title is Winsor McCay, the Famous Cartoonist of the N.Y. Herald and his Moving Comics, but it is usually referred to as Little Nemo. This version was named to the National Film Registry in December 2009.
In 1984, Arnaud Sélignac produced and directed a film called Nemo or Dream One, starring Jason Connery, Harvey Keitel and Carole Bouquet. It involves a little boy called Nemo, who wears pajamas and travels to a fantasy world, but otherwise the connection to McCay's strip is a loose one. The fantasy world is a dark and dismal beach, and Nemo encounters characters from other works of fiction rather than those from the original strip. Instead of Flip or the Princess, Nemo meets Zorro, Alice and Jules Verne's Nautilus (which was led by Captain Nemo).
An animated feature film entitled Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland (known simply as Nemo in Japan) was finally released in Japan in July 1989 and in the US in 1992. It was directed by Masami Hata and William T. Hurtz from a screenplay by Chris Columbus and Richard Outten. Originally conceived in 1982, this Japanese-American co-production had a long and tumultuous history which included a 1984 pilot by Ghibli director Yoshifumi Kondō.
Though regarded as a commercial failure in the US, it won several industry awards for its animation quality. Initially released on VHS in 1993, it was later released on DVD in October 2004 and January 2009.
In 1990, Capcom produced a video game for the NES, titled Little Nemo: The Dream Master (known as Pajama Hero Nemo in Japan), a licensed game based on the 1989 film. The film would not see a US release until 1992, two years after the game's Japanese release, so the game is often thought to be a standalone adaptation of Little Nemo, not related to the film. An arcade game called simply Nemo was also released in 1990.
Throughout the years, various pieces of Little Nemo merchandise have been produced. In 1941, Rand, McNally & Co. published a Little Nemo children's storybook. Little Nemo in Slumberland in 3-D was released by Blackthorne Publishing in 1987; this reprinted Little Nemo issues with 3-D glasses. A set of 30 Little Nemo postcards was available through Stewart Tabori & Chang in 1996. In 1993, as promotion for the 1989 animated film, Hemdale produced a Collector's Set which includes a VHS movie, illustrated storybook, and cassette soundtrack. In 2001, Dark Horse Comics released a Little Nemo statue and tin lunchbox.
The character and themes from the comic strip Little Nemo were used in a song "Scenes from a Night's Dream" written by Phil Collins and Anthony ‘Tony’ Banks of the progressive rock group Genesis on their 1978 recording, ...And Then There Were Three... Another progressive rock group, from Germany, called Scara Brae also recorded a musical impression of the comic on their rare self-titled disc from 1981 (the track was actually recorded 2 years earlier). Their concept piece was revived on the second album by the Greek band Anger Department, oddly called 'The Strange Dreams of A Rarebit Fiend', again after a McCay-comic. Their 'Little Nemo' was chosen for a theatre play, which was suggested for the cultural program for the Olympic Games in 2004.
At Universal's Islands of Adventure, at the Toon Lagoon section, Little Nemo can be seen falling out of his bed near a shop.
"Little Nemo in Slumberland" is also the inspiration for the video of the 1989 song Runnin' Down a Dream by Tom Petty.
In the 2012 film Cabin in the Woods, one character is seen reading Little Nemo.
Since its publishing, Little Nemo has had an influence on other artists, including Alan Moore, in Miracleman #4, when the Miracleman family end up in a palace called "Sleepy Town", which has imagery similar to Little Nemo's. In Moore (and J.H. Williams III)'s Promethea, a more direct pastiche – "Little Margie in Misty Magic Land" – showed Moore's inspiration and debt to McCay's landmark 1905 strip. The Sandman series occasionally references Little Nemo as well. Examples include The Sandman: The Doll's House, where an abused child escapes into dreams styled after McCay's comics and using a similar 'wake-up' mechanism, and The Sandman: Book of Dreams (pub. 1996), which features George Alec Effinger's short "Seven Nights in Slumberland" (where Nemo interacts with Neil Gaiman's characters The Endless).
In children's literature, Maurice Sendak has said that this strip inspired his book In the Night Kitchen, and William Joyce included several elements from Little Nemo in his children's book Santa Calls, including appearances by Flip and the walking bed.
In 1984, Italian comic artist Vittorio Giardino started producing a number of stories under the title Little Ego, a parodic adaptation of Little Nemo, in the shape of adult-oriented erotic comics. Brian Bolland's early comic strip, Little Nympho In Slumberland employed a similar technique.
The 1980s teen comic book Power Pack ran an issue which paid direct homage to one of McCay's Nemo storylines, featuring a castle that was drawn sideways and Katie Power re-enacting a classic Nemo panel with a sideways-drawn hallway that served as a bottomless pit with the line "Don't fall in, y'hear?"
The comic strip Cul de Sac includes a strip-within-the-strip, "Little Neuro", a parody of Little Nemo. Neuro is a little boy who hardly ever leaves his bed.
In 2006, electronic artist Daedelus used Little Nemo artwork for his album Denies the Day's Demise.
In 2009, the Pittsburgh ToonSeum established its NEMO Award, given to notable individuals "for excellence in the cartoon arts". Recipients to date include veteran comic-book artist Ron Frenz, editorial and comic-strip artist Dick Lochercartoonist and comics historian Trina Robbins, and comics artist, editorial cartoonist and artists' rights advocate Jerry Robinson.
On October 15, 2012, celebrating the 107th anniversary of the first Little Nemo story, Google displayed an interactive animated "Google Doodle" called "Little Nemo in Google-land" on its homepage. The doodle showed a typical Little Nemo adventure through a series of panels, each featuring a letter from the word "Google". The doodle also ends in the same way as the comic strips, with Nemo falling from his bed.
Zenas Winsor McCay (c. 1867–1871– July26, 1934) was an American cartoonist and animator. He is best known for the comic strip Little Nemo (1905–14; 1924–26) and the animated film Gertie the Dinosaur (1914). For contractual reasons, he worked under the pen name Silas on the comic strip Dream of the Rarebit Fiend.
Since a young age, McCay was a prolific, technically dextrous artist. He began as a professional by making posters and performing for dime museums, and began illustrating newspapers and magazines in 1898. He joined the New York Herald in 1903, where he created popular comic strips such as Little Sammy Sneeze and Dream of the Rarebit Fiend. In 1905, his signature strip Little Nemo in Slumberland debuted, a work which demonstrated McCay's mastery of color and perspective. At the same time, McCay was doing chalk talks on the vaudeville circuit. Between 1911 and 1921 he produced ten animated films; these included Gertie the Dinosuar, which he used as an interactive part of his vaudeville act. McCay joined William Randolph Hearst's chain of newspapers in 1911, after which his comic strip, vaudeville and animation work was gradually curtailed as Hearst expected him to devote his energies to editorial cartooning.
The technical level of McCay's animation was not matched until Walt Disney's feature films arrived in the 1930s. He pioneered inbetweening, the use of registration marks, cycling, and other animation techniques that became standard. His comic strip work has influenced generations of artists, including William Joyce, André LeBlanc, Moebius, Maurice Sendak, Chris Ware and Bill Watterson.
McCay's paternal grandparents, farmers Donald and Christiana McKay, immigrated from Scotland to Upper Canada in the mid-1830s. McCay's father, Robert McKay (1840– 21 March 1915) was born in Woodstock, Ontario, Canada, the third of six children. McCay's maternal grandparents, Peter and Mary Murray, were also Scottish immigrants, and settled as farmers in East Zorra in Upper Canada. Their daughter Janet was the third of nine children.
McCay's father Robert McKay (1840–1915)
Robert was a member of King Solomon's No.43 Masonic Lodge in Woodstock. In 1862, Robert first traveled to the U.S. Robert and the twenty-five-year-old Janet married on January 8, 1866 at Woodstock's Methodist Episcopal Church. The couple moved across the American border later in the year and settled in Spring Lake, Michigan, on the Eastern coast of Lake Michigan. Robert was employed by American entrepreneur ZenasG. Winsor (1814–1890), with whom he had made contact in Canada.
Records of McCay's birth are not extant. He claimed in a 1910 interview that he was born in 1869, and this is the year listed on his grave marker. Late in life, he told friends that his birthdate was September26, 1871 in Spring Lake. These friends had this information published in a magazine article. Michigan census records from 1870 and 1880 list a ZenasW. McKay, who was born in Canada in 1867. No Canadian birth record has been found, and a May 1893 fire in Spring Lake might have destroyed any American birth record he may have had. His obituary in the New York Herald Tribune stated, "not even Mr. McCay knew his exact age".
The McCay's had two more children: Arthur in 1868, and Mae in 1876. Both were born in Michigan. Robert worked as a teamster under Winsor, and by May 1870 had saved enough money to buy a parcel of land. From 1879 to 1881, he worked as a retail grocer. In 1885, he moved the family to Stanton, Michigan, and expanded his land holdings; he was successful in real estate with his brother Hugh, who moved from Canada in 1887.
By 1905, Robert was also a notary public. He had settled in Edmore, Michigan and changed the spelling of "McKay" to "McCay" by this point. His son related this story about the change:
"Three Scotsmen of the clan McKay were looking for a fourth member to fight four members of the Irish clan Magee....'I'm not one of you,' my father pointed out. 'You see, I'm one of the clan M-c-C-A-Y.' And that is how I got both my name and my sense of humor."
McCay came to be known by his middle name, Winsor, rather than the more unusual "Zenas". His drawing skills appeared early. According to a story told within the family, McCay made his first drawing in the aftermath of one of the many fires that hit Spring Lake. It was said that he picked up a nail and etched the scene of the fire in the frost of a windowpane. Drawing became obsessive for him; he drew anything he saw, and the level of detail and accuracy in his drawing was noted at a young age. He was able to draw accurately from memory even things he had never drawn—what McCay called "memory sketching". His father thought little of his artistic talents, though, and had him sent to Cleary Business College in Ypsilanti, Michigan. McCay rarely attended classes. He bragged about how he would catch the train to Detroit to show off his drawing skills at the Wonderland and Eden Musee dime museum. He drew portraits there for 25¢ apiece, from which he kept half.
McCay thrived on the attention he received, and his talents soon drew wider attention. John Goodison, a geography and drawing professor at Michigan state Normal School, offered to teach art to McCay privately, which McCay eagerly accepted. The lessons were practical and focused on using observation to learn to draw in geometrical perspective. Goodison was a former glass stainer and influenced McCay's use of color. McCay learned how to draw quickly using drills on the blackboard, and gained an appreciation for master artists of the past.
McCay spent two years in Chicago after making his way there with his friend Mort Touvers sometime in 1889. He traded art techniques there with painter Jules Guérin, whom he met at a boarding house in which he lodged, and did artwork for posters and pamphlets at the National Printing and Engraving Company.
McCay did editorial cartoons early in his career (1899)
In 1891, McCay moved to Cincinnati, where he did more dime museum work while living in a dingy boarding house near where he worked. He spent nine years making posters and other advertisements for the Kohl & Middleton Dime Museum, and later Heck and Avery's Family Theater (1896), Avery's New Dime Museum (1898) and Will S. Heck's Wonder World and Theater (1899) on Vine Street. At the museum in 1896, a demonstration of Thomas Edison's Vitascope was given, which was likely McCay's first exposure to the new medium of film. McCay also did work during this time for Ph. Morton's printing and lithography company. His ability to draw quickly with great accuracy drew crowds when he painted advertisements in public.
His first year at Kohl & Middleton, McCay was smitten when Maude Leonore Dufour walked into the dime museum with her sister while he was painting. He rushed to his studio to change into a custom-tailored suit, returned, and introduced himself to the fourteen-year-old Maude. Soon they eloped in Covington, Kentucky.
McCay began working on the side for the Cincinnati Commercial Tribune, where he learned to use a dip pen under the tutelage of Commercial Tribune art room manager Joseph Alexander. In 1898, he accepted a full-time position at the Commercial Tribune. He had a large number of illustrations published there which displayed his bold use of perspective and mastery of hatchwork. Soon after, he began freelancing for the humor magazine Life as well.
In 1900, McCay accepted a postion with a higher salary at The Cincinnati Enquirer. There, he produced a prolific amount of drawings, did some reporting, and became head of the art department. In his drawings, he began using line thickness to indicate depth, with thick lines surrounding his characters in an Art Nouveau-inspired style that became a trademark of his.
Nemo's bed takes a walk in the July26,1908, episode of Little Nemo in Slumberland.
From January until November 1903, McCay drew an ongoing proto-comic strip for the Enquirer based on poems written by George Randolph Chester called A Tale of the Jungle Imps by Felix Fiddle. Before the last two instalments appeared in print, McCay had moved to New York City to work for James Gordon Bennett, Jr.'s New York Herald, at first doing illustrations and editorial cartoons. He worked alongside comic strip pioneer Richard F. Outcault, who was doing the Buster Brown strip at the Herald. A rivalry built up between the two cartoonists which resulted in Outcault leaving the Herald to return to his previous employer William Randolph Hearst at The New York Journal.
McCay's first continuing comic strip, Mr. Goodenough, debuted in the Evening Telegram on January 21, 1904. The formula for the strip was that a sedentary millionaire would seek ways to be more active, with embarrassing results. Sister's Little Sister's Beau, McCay's first strip with a child protagonist, lasted one instalment that April, and his first color strip, Phurious Phinish of Phoolish Philipe's Phunny Phrolics, appeared in the Herald's Sunday supplement that May.
Little Sammy Sneeze (24September1905)
McCay's first popular attempt at a comic strip was Little Sammy Sneeze. The strip starred a young boy whose sneeze would build panel by panel until it was released with explosively disastrous results, for which he would usually be punished or chased away by those affected by it. The strip debuted in July 1904 and ran until December 1906.
McCay's longest-running strip, Dream of the Rarebit Fiend, first appeared in the Evening Telegram in September 1904. The strip was aimed at an adult audience, and had no recurring characters. The characters that appeared in the strip would have fantastic, sometimes terrifying dreams, only to wake up in the last panel, cursing the Welsh rarebit they had eaten the night before which they blamed for bringing on the dream. Rarebit Fiend was so popular that a book collection appeared in 1905 from Frederick A. Stokes. It was also adapted to film by Edwin S. Porter, and plans were made for a "comic opera or musical extravaganza" for stage that failed to materialize. McCay signed the Rarebit Fiend strips with the pen name "Silas", as his contract required that he not use his real name for his Evening Telegram work.
The McCays had been living in Manhattan, close to the Herald offices, but before 1905 they moved to Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn, New York, a seaside resort on Long Island. It was an hour commute from the Herald offices, but they believed it to be a better place to raise children. They lived at a number of addresses before settling into a three-story house at 1901 Voorhies Avenue, where McCay spent the rest of his life. As his reputation built, his employers allowed him to work from his home studio more often.
While still turning out illustrations and editorial cartoons daily, McCay began three more continuing strips in 1905. In January, he began The Story of Hungry Henrietta, in which the child protagonist visibly ages week by week, and eats compulsively in lieu of the love she craves from her parents. A Pilgrim's Progress by Mister Bunion was another "Silas" strip for the Evening Telegram, which ran from June 1905 until December 1910. Mr. Bunion spends each strip unsuccessfully scheming to rid himself of his suitcase, which is labeled "Dull Care".
McCay got "an idea from the Rarebit Fiend to please the little folk". In October 1905, the full-page Sunday strip Little Nemo in Slumberland debuted in the Herald. Considered McCay's masterpiece, its child star had fabulous dreams that would be interrupted with his awakening in the last panel. McCay experimented with the form of the comics page, its timing and pacing, the size and shape of its panels, perspective, architectural and other detail. The Herald was considered to have the highest quality color printing of any newspaper at the time. Its printing staff used the Ben Day process for color. McCay annotated the Nemo pages for the printers with the precise color schemes he wanted.
Impresario F. F. Proctor approached McCay in April 1906 to perform chalk talks for the vaudeville circuit. For $500 per week he would draw twenty-five sketches in fifteen minutes before live audiences, with a pit band playing a piece called "Dream of the Rarebit Fiend" in the background. In his The Seven Ages of Man routine, he drew two faces and progressively aged them. His fist performance was on June 11, 1906, in a show that also featured W. C. Fields. It was a success, and he toured with the show throughout 1907 while managing to maintain his comic strip and illustration work on time, often in hotel rooms or backstage.
Cover to the score of the extravagantly expensive Little Nemo stage musical (1908)
As early as 1905, several abortive attempts were made to put Little Nemo on stage. In summer 1907, Marcus Klaw and A. L. Erlanger announced they would put on an extravagant Little Nemo show for an unprecedented $100,000, with a score by Victor Herbert and lyrics by Harry B. Smith. It starred midget Gabriel Weigel as Nemo, Joseph Cawthorn as Dr. Pill, and Billy B. Van as Flip. Reviews were positive, and it played to sold-out houses in New York. It went on the road for two seasons. McCay brought his vaudeville act to each city where Little Nemo played. When a Keith circuit refused McCay to perform in Boston without a new act, McCay switched to the William Morris circuit, with a $100-a-week raise. In several cities, McCay brought his son, who sat on a small throne dressed as Nemo as publicity.
As part of an improvised story, Cawthorn introduced a mythical creature he called a "Whiffenpoof". The word stuck with the public, and became the name of a hit song and a singing group. Despite the show's success, it failed to make back its investment due to its enormous expenses, and came to an end in December 1910.
McCay displayed his social awareness in the last strip he created for the Herald, Poor Jake. Its title character was a silent laborer who worked thanklessly for a Colonel and Mrs. Stall, who exploit him. The strip ran until spring 1911.
McCay was approached in early 1910 to bring his vaudeville show to Europe. McCay requested the Herald's permission, but the plans never materialized. His show stayed within the Eastern U.S. until he ceased performing in 1917. Biographer John Canemaker assumed McCay's request to tour Europe was turned down, and that the refusal added to McCay's growing frustration with the Herald. His distrust of big business became pronounced in his work around this time, including a story arc in Little Nemo in which the characters visit a Mars that has been oppressed by a greedy business magnate.
McCay's animation was the work for which he said he was most proud. He completed ten animated films between 1911 and 1921, and at least three more are known to have been planned.
McCay busy creating his first animated film, Little Nemo (1911)
Inspired by the flip books his son brought home, McCay "came to see the possibility of making moving pictures" of his cartoons. He claimed that he "was the first man in the world to make animated cartoons", though he was preceded by James Stuart Blackton and Émile Cohl. McCay made four thousand drawings on rice paper for his first animated short, which starred his Little Nemo characters. They were shot at Vitagraph Studios under Blackton's supervision. Live-action sequences were added to the beginning and end of the film, in which McCay bets his newspaper colleagues that in one month he can make four thousand drawings that move. Among those featured in these sequences were cartoonist George McManus and actor John Bunny. Little Nemo debuted in movie theatres on April 8, 1911, and four days later McCay began using it as part of his vaudeville act. Its good reception motivated him to hand-color each of the frames of the originally black-and-white film.
McCay based How a Mosquito Operates (1912) on a Dream of the Rarebit Fiend episode (June 5, 1909).
McCay had become frustrated with the Herald, partly over money issues and partly bacause he perceived a lack of freedom. He accepted a higher-paying offer in spring 1911 from William Randolph Hearst at the New York American and took Little Nemo's characters with him. The Herald held the strip's copyright, but McCay won a lawsuit that allowed him to continue using the characters, which he did under the title In the Land of Wonderful Dreams. The Herald was unsuccessful in finding another cartoonist to continue the original strip.
McCay began work that May on his next animated film, How a Mosquito Operates, based on a Rarebit Fiend episode from June 5, 1909, in which a giant mosquito with feeds on a man in bed, who tries in vain to defend himself. The mosquito drinks itself so full that it explodes. The animation is naturalistic—rather than expanding like a balloon, with each sip of blood, the mosquito's abdomen swells according to its body structure. The film was completed in January 1912, and McCay toured with it that spring and summer.
Gertie the Dinosaur (1913) was an interactive part of McCay's vaudeville act.
Gertie the Dinosaur debuted in February 1914 as part of McCay's vaudeville act. McCay introduced Gertie as "the only dinosaur in captivity", and commanded the animated beast with a whip. Gertie seemed to obey McCay, bowing to the audience, and eating a tree and a boulder, though she had a personality of her own and sometimes rebelled. When McCay admonished her, she cried. McCay consoled by throwing her an apple—in reality, pocketing the cardboard prop apple as a cartoon one appeared in the film. In the finale, McCay walked offstage, then appeared on the film, and Gertie carried him away. Producer William Fox's Box Office Attractions obtained distribution rights to a modified version of Gertie that could be played in regular movie theaters. This version replaced the interactive portions with live-action sequences and intertitles.
Gertie was McCay's first piece of animation with detailed backgrounds. McCay drew the foreground characters, while art student neighbor John A. Fitzsimmons traced the backgrounds. McCay pioneered the "McCay Split System" of inbetweening, in which major poses or positions were drawn first, and the intervening frames drawn after. This relieved tedium and improved the timing of the film's actions. McCay refused to patent his system, and was sued in 1914 by animator John Randolph Bray, who took advantage of McCay's lapse to patent many of McCay's techniques, including the use of registration marks, tracing paper, and the Mutoscope action viewer, and the cycling of drawings to create repetitive action. The suit was unsuccessful, and there is evidence that McCay may have countersued—he received royalty payments from Bray for licensing the techniques.
McCay was pressured by Hearst into giving up his comic strips and non-newspaper work to concentrate on editorial cartoons. ("His Best Customer", 1917)
Hearst was disappointed with the quality of McCay's newspaper work. Infuriated that he couldn't reach McCay during a vaudeville performance, Hearst had advertising for the theatre where McCay performed pulled from his papers. Editor Arthur Brisbane told him that he was "a serious artist, not a comic cartoonist", and that he was to give up his comic strip work to focus on editorial illustrations. Hearst pressured McCay's agents to reduce the number of his vaudeville appearances, and was induced to sign a contract with Hearst that limited his vaudeville appearances to greater New York, with occasional exceptions granted. In February 1917, Hearst had him give up entirely on vaudeville, and all other paid work outside the Hearst empire, though he was occasionally granted permission for particular shows. Hearst increased McCay's salary to cover the loss of income.
McCay was expected to report daily to the American building, where he shared a ninth-floor office with humorist Arthur "Bugs" Baer and sports cartoonist Joe McGurk. There, he illustrated editorials by Arthur Brisbane, who often sent back McCay's drawings with instructions for changes. The quality of his drawings varied depending on his interest in the subject of the assignment, whose sentiments he often didn't believe in, and on events in his personal life, as in March 1914, when he was subjected to a blackmail plot by a Mrs. Lambkin, who was seeking a divorce from her husband. She alleged that McCay's wife, Maude, was seeing her husband. With McCay's level of fame, such a story would likely be in the papers, and Mrs. Lambkin and her husband told McCay that she would keep it secret for $1,000. McCay did not believe the allegations, and gave testimony at the Lambkins' divorce trial. The blackmail failed, and the divorce was not granted.
Hearst animation studio International Film Service began in December 1915, and brought Hearst cartoonists to the screen. McCay was initially listed as one of them, but the studio never produced anything either by his hands or starring his creations. McCay derived satisfaction from doing the work himself. The Sinking of the Lusitania was his follow-up to Gertie. It was not a fantasy, but a detailed, realistic recreation of the 1915 German torpedoing of the RMS Lusitania. The event counted 128 Americans among its 1,200 dead, and was a factor leading to the American entry into World War I.
McCay's daughter Marion married military man Raymond T. Moniz, eighteen years her senior, on October 13, 1917. She gave birth to McCay's first grandchild, Ray Winsor Moniz, on July 16, 1918. Moniz and McCay's son Robert were called up for service when the U.S. entered World War I.
The Sinking of the Lusitania (1918) required 25,000 drawings to be made over two years, and was McCay's first film to use acetate cels.
McCay's self-financed Lusitania took nearly two years to complete. With the assistance of John Fitzsimmons and Cincinnati cartoonist William Apthorp "Ap" Adams, McCay spent his off hours drawing the film on sheets of cellulose acetate (or "cels") with white and black India ink at McCay's home. The cels were taken to the Vitagraph studios to be photographed. The film was naturalistically animated, and made use of dramatic camera angles that would have been impossible in a live-action film.
Jewel Productions released the film on July 20, 1918. Advertising touted it as "the picture that will never have a competitor", and the film itself called McCay "the originator and inventor of Animated Cartoons" and drew attention to the fact that it took 25,000 drawings to complete. The Sinking of the Lusitania did not greatly return on McCay's investment—after a few years' run in theaters, it netted McCay $80,000.
McCay continued to produce animated films using cels. By 1921, he had completed six, though three were likely never shown commercially to audiences and have since survived only in film fragments: The Centaurs, Flip's Circus and Gertie on Tour. In 1921, he released three films based on Dream of the Rarebit Fiend: Bug Vaudeville, in which insects and other creepy-crawlies perform on stage; The Pet, in which a creature with a bottomless appetite grows enormously and terrorizes the city in a way reminiscent of King Kong; and The Flying House in which a man attaches wings to his house to flee from debt. McCay's son Robert is credited with the animation on this last film, but Canemaker notes it is highly unlikely that a first-time animator could have produced such an accomplished piece of animation.
After 1921, McCay was made to give up on animation when Hearst learned he devoted more of his time to animation than to his newspaper illustrations. Unexecuted ideas McCay had for animation projects included a collaboration with Jungle Imps author George Randolph Chester, a musical film called The Barnyard Band, and a film about the Americans' role in World War I.
Editorial cartoon "Oblivion's Cave—Step Right In, Please" (March 19, 1922)
McCay's son Robert married Theresa "Tedda" Munchausen on April 9, 1921. McCay bought them a nearby house as a wedding gift. The couple gave McCay two more grandchildren: Janet (named after McCay's mother) in 1922, and Robert in 1928. Robert suffered shell shock during World War I, and following the war had difficulty drawing. McCay tried to boost his son's confidence by finding him cartooning work, and some of the elder McCay's editorial cartoons were signed "Robert Winsor McCay, Jr."
In 1922, McCay began doing vaudeville shows again for the Keith circuit. He had a cameo in a newspaper office scene in a the boxing film The Great White Way in early 1924.
McCay left Hearst upon the expiration of his contract in May 1924, bitter over not having received a promised $5,000 bonus. He returned to the Herald Tribune, and brought back Little Nemo beginning that August. The new strip displayed the virtuoso technique of the old, but the panels were laid out in an unvarying grid. Nemo took a more passive role in the stories, and there was no continuity. The strip came to an end in December 1926, as it was not popular with readers. Hearst executives had been trying to convince McCay to return to the American, and succeeded in 1927. While McCay was gone, his place had been filled by Mel Cummin, who was let go after McCay's return. Due to the lack of the 1920s Nemo's success, the Herald Tribune signed over all copyrights to the strip to McCay for one dollar.
In 1927, McCay attended a dinner in his honor in New York. After a considerable amount of drinking, McCay was introduced by animator Max Fleischer. McCay gave the gathered group of animators some technical advice, but when he felt the audience was not giving him attention, he berated his audience, saying, "Animation is an art. That is how I conceived it. But as I see, what you fellows have done with it, is making it into a trade. Not an art, but a trade. Bad Luck!" That September he appeared on the radio at WNAC, and on November 2 he was interviewed for The Evening Journal's Woman's Hour by Frank Craven. During both appearances he complained about the state of contemporary animation.
An executive of the American Tobacco Company approached McCay in 1929 to do an advertising campaign for a financial "sum in excess of his annual salary". Brisbane refused, citing that McCay's contract didn't allow outside work. When the executive stormed into Brisbane's office threatening to pull American Tobacco's advertising dollars from the American, Brisbane provided a written release for the work.
In 1932, McCay found himself in what he recalled as "the wildest ride" in his life when Hearst's son "Young Bill" drove him at 85 miles per hour (137km/h) to the scene of the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby. They arrived there two hours after the crime was first reported to police, and were able to interview the gathered police before the grounds were closed off to the public. McCay sketched the scene, the staff, and the ladders the kidnappers used, which he was allowed to see up close.
McCay had appeared in good health until July 26, 1934, when he complained to his wife of a pain in his head. To his horror, he found his right arm—his drawing arm—was paralyzed. He lost consciousness, and was pronounced dead later that afternoon, with his wife, children and son-in-law by his side. He had died of a cerebral embolism, and was buried at the Cemetery of the Evergreens in Brooklyn in a family plot. He had a Masonic funeral in his home, attended by his newspaper colleagues, Hearst and his son, and the Society of Illustrators, among others
Brisbane hired back Mel Cummins to replace McCay. Due to his lavish lifestyle, McCay left a smaller fortune than those around him had expected. By the early 1940s, Maude had used up her inheritance and sold the house on Voorhies Avenue. When she died of a heart attack on March 2, 1949, she was living with her daughter and son-in-law. Son Robert was also careless with his inheritance, and less successful in art than his father. He worked for a short time at the Hearst papers, and tried unsuccessfully to get a job at the Disney studios, before finding a career as illustrator for Training Aids/Special Services at Fort Ord.
Self-conscious and introverted in private, McCay was nevertheless a charismatic showman and self-promoter, and maintained several lifelong friendships. He stood barely five feet (150cm) tall, and felt dominated by his wife, who was nearly as tall as he was.
His mother often visited him in Brooklyn, and attended Little Nemo's Philadelphia premiere. She died in Edmore, Michigan, in 1927.
Maude McCay (née Dufour, 1877–1949), c. 1910–1915
McCay married Maude Leonore Dufour, the youngest of three daughters of French-Canadian carriage painter John Dufour. About a decade separated the couple's ages. Biographer Canemaker speculates this may explain the lack of certainty behind McCay's birthdate, even by McCay himself, as he may have tried to downplay the age gap by lying about his birthdate. Maude was also reportedly age-conscious. She insisted on being called "Nan" instead of "Grandma", and kept her hair dyed black until her death at age seventy-two. The couple had two children: Robert Winsor, born June 21, 1896; and Marion Elizabeth, born August 22, 1897.
McCay was agnostic, and believed in reincarnation. He was a lifelong member of the Freemasons, which he may have joined as early as when he was living in Chicago. His father had also been a Freemason, and was buried in 1915 with full Masonic rites, with funerals arranged by his Masonic lodges in both Woodstock, Ontario, and Edmore, Michigan.
McCay's brother Arthur was placed in a mental hospital in Traverse City, Michigan on March 7, 1898, where he stayed until his death from bronchopneumonia and arteriosclerosis on June 15, 1946. He never received family visits. McCay never let his children know about his brother, nor did they know about the existence of his sister Mae, who died in 1910.
McCay was a light but frequent drinker; he drank for comraderie, rather than for a love of drinking. He was an avid reader of poetry, plays and novels; he admired W. B. Yeats, knew the works of Percy Bysshe Shelley and John Keats, and could quote the Bible and Shakespeare.
In 1937, McCay's son Robert attempted to carry on his father's legacy by reviving Little Nemo. Comic book packager Harry "A" Chesler's syndicate announced a Sunday and daily Nemo strip, credited to "Winsor McCay, Jr." Robert also drew a comic-book version for Chesler called Nemo in Adventureland starring grown-up versions of Nemo and the Princess. Neither project lasted long. In 1947, Robert and fabric salesman Irving Mendelsohn organized the McCay Feature Syndicate, Inc. to revive the original Nemo strip from McCay's original art, modified to fit the size of modern newspaper pages. This revival also did not last.
McCay's original artwork has been poorly preserved. McCay insisted on having his originals returned to him, and a large collection survived him, but much of it was destroyed in a fire in the late 1930s. His wife was unsure how to handle the surviving pieces, so his son took on the responsibility and moved the collection into his own house. The family sold off some of the artwork when they were in need of cash. Responsibility for it passed to Mendelsohn, then later to daughter Marion. By the early twenty-first century, most of McCay's surviving artwork remained in family hands.
McCay destroyed many of his original cans of film to create more storage space. Of what film he kept, much of it has not survived, as it was photographed on original 35mm nitrate film, which deteriorates and becomes inflammable in storage. Mendelsohn's son and a friend, both young animators, discovered the film in Mendelsohn's possession in 1947 and rescued what they could. In some cases, such as The Centaurs, only fragments could be saved. A negative and incomplete positive of Barnyard Animals was discovered but deemed unsalvageable.
In 1966, cartoonist Woody Gelman discovered the original artwork for many Little Nemo at a cartoon studio where McCay's son Bob had worked. Many of the recovered originals were displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art under the direction of curator A. Hyatt Mayor. In 1973, Gelman published a collection of Little Nemo strips in Italy.His collection of McCay originals has been preserved by the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum at Ohio State University.
McCay's work, grounded solidly in his understanding of realistic perspective, presaged the techniques featured in Walt Disney's feature films. Disney paid tribute to McCay in 1955 on an episode of Disneyland. The episode, "The Story of Animated Drawing", gave a history of animation, and dramatized McCay's vaudeville act with Gertie. Robert was invited to the Disney studios as a consultant on the episode, where Walt Disney told him, "Bob, all this should be your father's".
Animator John Canemaker produced a film in 1974 called Remembering Winsor McCay, narrated by McCay's animation assistant John Fitzsimmons. Canemaker helped coordinate the first retrospective of McCay's films at the third International Animation Film Festival in 1975 in New York, which led to a film show at the Whitney Museum of American Art in winter 1975–76. Canemaker also wrote a biography in 1987 called Winsor McCay: His Life and Art. In 2005, a revised and expanded version of the biography was released, which comics scholar Jeet Heer called "far and away the most scholarly and intelligent biography ever written about an American cartoonist". Heer wrote that McCay's strength was in his visuals, but that his writing and characters were weak.
Federico Fellini read Little Nemo in the children's magazine Il corriere dei piccoli, and the strip was a "powerful influence" on the filmmaker, according to Fellini biographer Peter Bondanella. Comics historian R. C. Harvey has called McCay "the first original genius of the comic strip medium" and in animation. Harvey claims that McCay's contemporaries lacked the skill to continue with his innovations, so that they were left for future generations to rediscover and build upon. Cartoonist Robert Crumb called McCay a "genius" and one of his favorite cartoonists. Art Spiegelman's 1974 "Real Dream" strip was partially inspired by Rarebit Fiend and his In the Shadow of No Towers in 2004 appropriated some of McCay's imagery, and included a page of Little Nemo in its appendix. Cartoonist Kim Deitch's The Boulevard of Broken Dreams revolved around a character named Winsor Newton, based on an aged McCay.
McCay has panels grow to accommodate a growing mushroom forest in Little Nemo.
Virtually from the beginning, McCay innovated with the form of his chosen media. He varied the size and shape of comic strip panels for dramatic effect, as in the second instalment of Little Nemo (October 22, 1905), where the size of the panels grow to adapt to the growing forest of mushrooms in the story. Few of McCay's contemporaries were so bold with their page layouts. George Herriman with Krazy Kat was the most notable example, but it was not until a generation later that cartoonists such as Frank King with Gasoline Alley, Hal Foster with Prince Valiant and Roy Crane with Captain Easy attempted such daring designs on their Sunday pages.
McCay's mastery of perspective enhanced the fantastic illusions in his drawings, particularly in Little Nemo. Fantastic grotesqueries as what McCay witnessed during his time at the Wonderland and Eden Musee appeared often in McCay's work. McCay was noted for the speed and accuracy with which he could draw. Crowds of people would gather around to watch him paint billboards.
In contrast to the high level of skill in the artwork, the dialogue in McCay's speech balloons is crude, sometimes approaching illegibility, and "disfigur[ing] his otherwise flawless work", according to critic R. C. Harvey. This is further highlighted by the level of effort and skill apparent in the title lettering. McCay seemed to show little regard for the dialogue balloons, their content, and their placement in the visual composition. They tended to contain repetitive monologues expressing the increasing distress of the speakers, and showed that McCay's gift was in the visual and not the verbal.
McCay used Higgins black drawing ink, Gillott #290 pens, "a large lump of art gum", a T-square and angle, and an assortment of Venus lead pencils.
McCay's made use of traditional ethnic stereotypes in his comics and animation. Most prominent were the Little Nemo characters, the ill-tempered Irishman, Flip, and the rarely-speaking African, the Little Imp. In the animated Little Nemo, the Anglo-Saxon Nemo is shown drawn in a dignified Art Nouveau style, and controls by magic the more grotesquely caricatured Flip and Imp.