Winsor McCay had an amazing career as a cartoonist. One of the earliest and most popular artists of his time, he was renowned for both his serial cartoons and his editorial cartoons. Little Nemo in Slumberland Vol. 1 introduces the readers to the comic strip series of the same name that launched (and solidified) McCay as a cartoonist icon.
Little Nemo in Slumberland, like many of the famous series in the early twentieth century, found its form and popularity as part of the Sunday comics, printed in color and sometimes upwards of sixteen full pages of strips. The basic gimmick of the series is that Nemo falls asleep and has all these wild and zany adventures during his sleep. These trips to Slumberland get so exciting and exhilarating that often Nemo awakens by falling out of his bed. The stories are often cute and amusing, but also highly and beautifully imaginative. They evoke that netherworld of imagination captured in Frank L. Baum’s Oz books or such films as The Dark Crystal and The Neverending Story.
McCay is attentive in his art. His rich, bright colors spark the imagination, and his drawings show such detail. Considering that these were printed in newspapers and expected to be thrown away, McCay puts such work into them. Following the series from when it first appeared in 1905 to several years later, it is interesting to note that McCay’s art and style do change over time. In his earlier pieces, he uses a fair share of text and sometimes twelve to thirteen panels to tell his story. Toward the end, the panels grow larger for the most part, and there is much less text.
The collection also includes some amazing bonus material. Before even getting to Little Nemo, readers are introduced to the full run of Tales of the Jungle Imps. While extremely racist in today’s context (and possibly at the time), the book does not apologize but explains its decision to preserve the series unedited as part of a (albeit sad) piece of history. The Jungle Imps are essentially dwarfed Africans with exaggerated features including kinky hair, big lips, and grass skirts—savages. Each strip explains some element of nature, whether it’s “How the Turtle Got His Shell” or “Why The Bat Hangs Upside Down,” with the help or hindrance of the Jungle Imps. These strips are as dialogue-based as Little Nemo. Instead, McCay uses poems to tell the stories with a few panels to further explain. The book also includes earlier proofs of some of the Nemo strips and promotional work such as advertisements on behalf of McKay’s work.
The books is an oversized one, though not necessarily to be confused as a coffee book. Its dimensions have to do with the real-size recreation of the comic strips themselves, which were larger than standard book and comic book formats today. Surprisingly, though, even at real size, the print, particularly on the Tales of the Jungle Imps, is hard to read because of its size and can be rough on the reader’s eyes.
The comic connoisseur would be negligent not to pick up this and future volumes of McKay’s work. His talent and influence on the medium is still recognized today. Even average readers can bask in the beautiful and skillful work of McCay and get lost in the adventures of young Nemo.