Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Winsor McCay

     Anyone with even a passing interest in art, animation, comics, or publishing might enjoy Winsor McCay: His Life and Art, by John Canemaker (Abrams, revised and expanded edition, 2005), an illustrated, large-format biography of the artist whose comic strip, Little Nemo in Slumberland , and other works, enchanted newspaper readers beginning in 1905.

     McCay's influence is evident in the dreamy performance art of Cirque du Soleil and the picture books of Maurice Sendak, who often credited McCay as a source and who contributed an introduction to this book. For example, the tall side-by-side panels in Sendak's In the Night Kitchen resemble McCay's ingenious layouts.  The result is an  illusion of animated motion. Mickey tumbling down through those panels in his surrealist dream looks very much like Nemo falling through the night sky and waking up in a heap beside his bed.

     The cover illustration of Down in the Dumps with Jack and Guy, a story that pictorially associates modern homeless shelters with images of Auschwitz, depicts a pair of urchins looking into the gaping black maw of a full moon.  Sendak's illustration is an allusion to McCay's 1905 full-page spread of Little Nemo, in the New York Herald, which incorporates a central image of a similar moon, where a clown standing on the moon's tongue invites the dreaming Nemo to step inside.

Again and again, McCay depicted images with gaping mouths swallowing or regurgitating human beings.  He made himself wealthy with comics, movies, political cartoons and advertising, and at least one poster for Liberty Bonds.  He died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1936.
     Peter Maresca restored Little Nemo in Slumberland.  Since he couldn't find a publisher willing to take his work, he published it himself, in two full-size volumes, 21 inches long and sixteen inches wide, at the cost of "a three-bedroom house in Kansas."  The books are available at for $125 each or $225 for both.  Remaindered copies of the beautiful $45 Abrams biography of Winsor McCay, with many illustrations reduced in size, can be bought online at Daedalus Books for $19.95.
     (Sorry for the erratic formatting--I done my best.)

1 comment:

  1. The full-size volumes of *Little Nemo in Slumberland* are absolutely beautiful. I've glimpsed them in bookstores every once in a great while. If you ever see them, take a look. You'll be glad you did.