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One of my great heroes

Winsor “Silas” McCay (1869 –1934) was a cartoonist for the Hearst papers. Dude was enormously prolific and incredibly innovative — his surreal comic strips still stand as some of the best sequential art, ever.

Why is it that the first guys in any new medium are often unsurpassed by the people who follow?

If he’s remembered much at all today, it’s usually for creating some of the very first moving cartoons. Which he did all by himself. By inking, like, ten thousand key frames by hand.

The most famous is Gertie the Dinosaur, which he took on the road as a Vaudeville act. Where you see the speech panels in this YouTube version is where McCay would stand on stage talking and appearing to interact with Gertie on-screen. It must have been a corker of an experience for people who had never seen a cartoon before!

Hearst didn’t like McCay to be on the Vaudeville circuit, though, so he pulled strings to choke off his stage career. Which suits me — so many more McCay comic strips!

The most beautiful is the Little Nemo in Slumberland series, but my favorite will always be Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend.

It depicts the terrible dreams people have after eating toasted cheese just before bed. Sometimes funny, sometimes creepy, often spectacularly drawn and always trippy, this has been one of my favorite bedside books for decades. My copy has damn near fallen to bits.

So you can imagine my squee when I discovered there were 190 large-format Saturday strips I’d never seen before. Found the book by accident and ordered it straight away.

It’s funny. I can’t really find one good “representative strip” that gives a full idea of McCay’s talent. I think you have to see dozens in aggregate to see what a flipping genius the man was. But click here to see the full panel this one goes with.

Then imagine, like, 500 hundred more.


Comment from Alice
Time: February 18, 2012, 12:21 am

“flipping genius”. heh

Comment from Christopher Taylor
Time: February 18, 2012, 3:34 am

I love his Little Nemo stuff, its just brilliant. The problem is that newspapers used to be about twice the size they are now, so the details were more visible. Now its a pain to read them, even in big coffee table books.

Despite his politics I love Pogo too, his art was amazing as well.

Comment from Nina
Time: February 20, 2012, 3:15 am

You’re so easy, Stoaty. 🙂

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: February 20, 2012, 1:15 pm

Pah! McCay is *amazing*. And I’m tempted to keep posting his stuff until you all burst into tears and agree with me.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: February 20, 2012, 1:16 pm

EGG #3. Couldn’t tell if Mapp or Lucia laid it. My money’s on Lucia, but I wasn’t quick enough to see which one was beGAKing.

Comment from iamfelix
Time: February 21, 2012, 6:35 am

I SO agree, and will never cry even if’n you post him every day. And happy belated anniversary to you & B. 🙂

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: February 21, 2012, 7:28 am

FELIX! Thinking about you, honeychile. Glad to see you still have an oar in the water.

Comment from nightfly
Time: February 21, 2012, 2:58 pm

That strip’s a peacherino, and that’s no josh.

I love love love the old-form newpaper comics. McCay’s Little Nemo was a big influence on Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes, for example (so in a way we have McCay to thank for Spaceman Spiff and Stupendous Man).

In the other direction, there’s Charles Addams and his macabre single panels. He tended more to the New Yorker than to newsprint, but the point holds – these innovators were often greatly superior to those they inspired.

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