The groundbreaking cartoonist was born more than 150 years ago…
By PETER BOSCH
Winsor McCay was more than a comic strip artist and writer, he was a brilliant and imaginative designer. His work on Little Nemo in Slumberland from more than 100 years ago still dazzles with a stunning week-after-week Sunday strip that boggles the mind.
McCay claimed he was born on September 26, but the year of birth is uncertain. In an interview, he said it was 1869 but later said he was born in 1871. Even where he was born is in dispute, with possibilities of either a Canadian birth or in Michigan.
He drew a number of features for newspapers of the time but achieved success, using the alias of “Silas,” with the comic strip Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend, which started in 1904. It was with Little Nemo in Slumberland, under his own name, that McCay became a superstar. The strip ran first in the New York Herald from October 15, 1905, through July 23, 1911. Publisher William Randolph Hearst wanted McCay to draw the strip for his New York Journal newspaper, and under a change of name to In the Land of Wonderful Dreams, got McCay to work for him. The strip continued from September 3, 1911, to July 26, 1914, there.
McCay literally took his show on the road when, starting in 1914, he performed in vaudeville, interacting from the stage with the on-screen title character of Gertie the Dinosaur, a cartoon he created. Hearst felt his stage work was interfering with drawing for the Journal, and forced him to stop by 1917. Hearst also later made him give up his career in animation in order to handle assignments for him.
Frustrated from his time with Hearst, he did not renew his contract when it expired in 1924. McCay returned to the Herald and resurrected Little Nemo in Slumberland on August 3, 1924. It came to an end on January 9, 1927.
On July 26, 1934, McCay told his wife that he had a headache and his right arm was suddenly paralyzed. He lost consciousness and died that day from a cerebral embolism.
The genius of Winsor McCay will never be forgotten or equaled. Here are 13 of his Little Nemo strips that show off his incredible talent.
(Please note: Little Nemo in Slumberland contained unfortunate racial stereotypes. They were as wrong then as they are now.)
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13th Dimension contributor-at-large PETER BOSCH’s first book, American TV Comic Books: 1940s-1980s – From the Small Screen to the Printed Page, was published by TwoMorrows. He is currently at work on a sequel, about movie comics. Peter has written articles and conducted celebrity interviews for various magazines and newspapers. He lives in Hollywood.