Stranger Days #41: Landing in Slumberland

Book cover to Winsor McCay's Little Nemo in Slumberland Volume 1Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes

Welcome to stranger days--my blog series exploring daily life, challenges in times of the COVID-19 pandemic, and just sharing insights or thoughts about how to make it through these days.  

Ok, so this is day 3 in a row of being on a "let's explore my library" kick. I can't promise it will be the last but I do hope you're enjoying it.  So we delved into the Mysteries of the Motel on Tuesday, and then on Wednesday, we got into looking at Fransisco De Goya.  Today, we're looking at Winsor McCay! He is a fascinating creator from the early 20th century. He's most well known for his amazing and visually stunning comics, but he also played around with film.  He created one of the earlier (and quite fun to watch animated films, Gertie the Dinosaur - 13:51 minutes).  I knew the second I saw the book that I was going to need to write a post on it and share his work with folks because he's just too good in many ways.  

However, in knowing that, I knew I also had to address the fact that McCay like so many other white creators in US history has his fair share of racist depictions that do taint his work. The most known example is his depiction of what he labeled "Jungle Imps", racist stereotypes of black Africans.  As this article (Winsor McCay, George Randolph Chester, and the Tale of the Jungle Imps Jenny E. Robb) points out, his series, Tales of the Jungle Imps, was an earlier work of his and one that ultimately helped him gain popularity enough to become a sought-after commodity among newspapers.  So if I want to talk about McCay's most known work, there's not way to really talk about it without acknowledging that it got to be his "most known" work because he benefitted by portraying people of color in the most ignorant and demeaning ways as possible. A product of his times, yes. But that doesn't mean we can't acknowledge it and whitewash that history.  

That's the challenging thing about looking at McCay's later work in conjunction with his earlier work. Yes, he attempts to bring humor and whimsy these Just-So Stories, but he does so at the cost of people of color and in inevitably, it detracts from the ability to see his amazing and rich comics that come later.  His Little Nemo in Slumberland and Dreams of a Rarebit Fiend, are such beautiful depictions of how comic art is indeed an art and has been so for over 100 years.  He illustrates creative insight in how he plays with the comic form while also opening up such fantastic worlds in just a handful of panels each Sunday.

The big reason why I chose Little Nemo is that so much of this collection (and much of McCay's work) has such a surreal and disorienting feel to it.  Things go from normal to strange and back again, sometimes with no rhyme or reason and each panel has Nemo crashing out of his bed (or just waking up), wondering about how real or unreal was the thing he just witnessed.  That feeling is something I believe we can all relate to in these days.  

I leave you with two such examples to explore and enjoy.  Have you heard of or read anything of McCay's work?  How did you come across it?  What did you think of it?

A 1-page comic strip of Little Nemo in Slumberland

A 1-page comic strip of Little Nemo in Slumberland

Take care. Be careful. Be care-filled.  Welcome to stranger days.

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