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Dover Book

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    I have been a huge fan of Dover's graphic novels since I purchased the first one. I've liked them all and some I really loved. But this one was just horrible. As I began doing research, it occurred to me that it was a sign of the times, and so much here that was offensive to me was commonplace back then, even remembering cartoons from my childhood in the 50s and early 60s. I had never heard of this comic strip, but in reading its history and about the fascinating life of its creator, I have mixed feelings now. I will get to that in a bit. But first, here's some info about the series, and what I found so disturbing. Incidentally, McCay also created comics more oriented to adults, but this one supposedly was for the young folk. I don't think I would read it to children, and I don't think my opinion would change if it was meant for adults.
    It is about a little boy, Little Nemo, who visits Slumberland every night. His adventures are a combination of fantasy-nightmares, and just as things get out of control with each dream, he wakes up, or is awakened by one of his frumpy parents. OK, so I can deal with that, sorta. In the work I do, I have been investigating the mind-control agendas being carried out on this planet currently, and one of the ways we are being programmed is through our dreams. I have this more or less documented in my own life, so I am not a big fan of dreams any more, and I have a radically different perception of them than most people. That was the beginning of my issues. With each dream, we see Nemo at the very end, waking up in his bed.
    Here is where I really had issues. First of all, he's a little kid, and this bed looks cold and stark, (and so do his parents). We only see this corner, and there is nothing else to indicate a child's bedroom—no toys, stuffed animals—little things that make a child's room a safe play and sleep area. Here's an example.

Little Nemo Awakens

    But what makes it worse is his parents. Sometimes he falls out of bed, or the blankets or pillows have all fallen off his bed. One time he had the sheets wrapped around his throat, or sometimes is tangled up in them. His parents, rather than giving comfort, threaten to whip him if he doesn't get to sleep!! Oh, my. I am against hitting and physical violence. My parents never hit me. In modern times, if a child was having such sleep issues, most responsible parents would seek some sort of professional help. Again, a sign of the times.
    And it gets worse. In Slumberland he has a friend who is a Princess—at least in the issues included in this Dover collection, which are only a few, and this comic strip ran for quite a while. There is another character—a trouble-maker named Flip, who is a gangster-like clown. Yeah, I know—we had cartoons back in the 50s that had characters like that, too. But then in one part of the series, they end up in the jungle, and I found these so beyond offensively racist, that certainly there would be an outcry of anger were this to be published today, and rightfully so. Flip kidnaps one of the natives and brings him back to the Palace. He is named Impy.
    But even worse, in the jungle scenes, I looked closely and thought, OMG, no! The Princess is topless. I don't care if she is just a little girl. (She's not that little.) In this age of pedophiles and sexual predators, topless is NOT OK for a little girl. And also in the jungle scene when they are riding elephants, Flip burns his with his cigar to make it go faster. GASP!! Then later on, he throws a firecracker at the animals and blows them all up. And this is for children? That is teaching them that animal abuse is OK. I dunno. I found the whole collection rather disturbing to read with little enjoyment or entertainment. And certainly not funny.
    The only humor pertaining to this book was its arrival. I had ordered it back in 2022 and there were only six books in that order. I have an extra-large mailbox, so most of the very few things I order will fit in it, saving a trip to the post office, which is eight miles away. Well, this one didn't. I could have had them re-deliver it, but I needed to go out that way, so I picked it up. The box was HUGE. I was like, WTF? When I got home and opened it, I burst out laughing. The huge box was needed for this book, and most of the rest of the space was packing paper. Though only 32 pages, its dimensions are 14 1/2 by 10 1/2, and it is a hardback. That's why my scanner could only cover part of each page.
    It wasn't until I read the Wikipedia pages on it that I understood why Dover published it so large. McCay, along with his numerous other innovations, used different sizes for each panel to emphasize what that scene depicted. I'll discuss that more later, as McCay was an important innovator and developer of the comic strip, and animated films.
    Anyways, here are the pages I scanned for examples, then I will include more historical information.
    Here we begin on Page 7, where Nemo, the Princess and Flip are on a sledge racing toward Jack Frost's Palace, which is made of ice, or ice cream. Flip is told he's not allowed to smoke, so he plans revenge. His uncle can control the sun and that would be bad for not just Jack Frost. Daylight melts away all of Slumberland. He constantly uses that threat.

Page 7

    In the next one, Nemo, the Princess and Flip have been captured by pirates, but King Morpheus, the King of Slumberland and the Princess's father, fires at the ship and rescues them. Nemo awakens when his father shakes him. It is on Page 13.

Page 13

    Here, from Page 18, they are on the Candy Islands where they are kidnapped by cannibals, and again rescued by the King's soldiers.

Page 18

    They have now arrived back at the Palace of King Morpheus. Flip has boxes of jewels that he stashed from the Pirate ship. but he also stashed one of the Island natives, Impy, who constantly causes trouble. Here he's winding the strings of jewels around everyone, and Nemo awakens with the bedclothes wrapped around his neck. This is on Page 25. Notice how the size of each panel constantly changes.

Page 25

    On Page 30, the Princess finally gets to go see her Papa while the others are supposed to dress for the ball. But the gold columns suddenly become trees and Giants come after them. Once again, Nemo falls out of bed and his mother threatens to spank him.

Page 30

    So that gives you an idea of how this comic strip goes. Now here's a bit about its history and the artist. And first I must admit, artistically, the book is gorgeous—a feast for the eyes, and McCay's great talent in illustrating, plus his numerous other gifts, were what brought him such great attention and fame. Here's what Wikipedia has to say about him.
    Zenas Winsor McCay was born sometime between 1866 and 1871, either in Canada or Spring Lake Michigan. Apparently records were lost and McCay himself didn't even know his real age. Both of his parent were Scottish-Canadians. He got his name from the American entrepreneur Zenas G. Winsor with whom his father was employed as a teamster. Later his father worked as a retail grocer, then with his brother Hugh, he was successful in real estate.
    And as for the talented son, he was a pioneer in so many artistic mediums, too many to note here, but I strongly suggest reading his Wikipedia page and you will be impressed. Plus, his era must have been an interesting time to be alive and creating. He was a performer in the vaudeville circuit and his art/illustrations, such as Little Nemo are classified as Art Nouveau. Here are two paragraphs from the article.

From a young age, McCay was a quick, prolific, and technically dexterous artist. He started his professional career making posters and performing for dime museums, and in 1898 began illustrating newspapers and magazines. In 1903 he joined the New York Herald, where he created popular comic strips such as Little Sammy Sneeze and Dream of the Rarebit Fiend. In 1905 his signature strip Little Nemo in Slumberland debuted—a fantasy strip in an Art Nouveau style about a young boy and his adventurous dreams. The strip demonstrated McCay's strong graphic sense and mastery of color and linear perspective. McCay experimented with the formal elements of the comic strip page, arranging and sizing panels to increase impact and enhance the narrative. McCay also produced numerous detailed editorial cartoons and was a popular performer of chalk talks on the vaudeville circuit.

McCay was an early animation pioneer; between 1911 and 1921 he self-financed and animated ten films, some of which survive only as fragments. The first three served in his vaudeville act; Gertie the Dinosaur was an interactive routine in which McCay appeared to give orders to a trained dinosaur. McCay and his assistants worked for twenty-two months on his most ambitious film, The Sinking of the Lusitania (1918), a patriotic recreation of the German torpedoing in 1915 of the RMS Lusitania. Lusitania did not enjoy as much commercial success as the earlier films, and McCay's later movies attracted little attention. His animation, vaudeville, and comic strip work was gradually curtailed as newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, his employer since 1911, expected McCay to devote his energies to editorial illustrations.

    Wikipedia quotes him as saying, "I just couldn't stop drawing anything and everything."

According to a story told within the family, McCay made his first drawing in the aftermath of one of the many fires that hit Spring Lake: he picked up a nail and etched the scene of the fire in the frost of a windowpane. Drawing became obsessive for him; he drew anything he saw, and the level of detail and accuracy in his drawing was noted at a young age. He was able to draw accurately from memory even things he had never before drawn—what McCay called "memory sketching".

    He drew portraits at "dime museums," and did "chalk talks" for the vaudeville circuit, where, for $500 per week he was to draw twenty-five sketches in fifteen minutes before live audiences, as a pit band played a piece called "Dream of the Rarebit Fiend," which was also the name of one of his adult-oriented comic strips.
    He studied art privately with John Goodison, a geography and drawing professor at Michigan State Normal School. He lived in Chicago for two years, then moved to Cincinnati, doing more dime museum work. It is here that he met his future wife.

His first year at Kohl & Middleton, McCay was smitten when Maude Leonore Dufour walked into the dime museum with her sister while he was painting. He rushed to his studio to change into a custom-tailored suit, returned, and introduced himself to the fourteen-year-old Maude. Soon they eloped in Covington, Kentucky.

    I worked on my Master's degree in Cincinnati, and worked as a waitress in Covington! (This was back in the Dark Ages.) He began working for the Cincinnati Commercial Tribune, then later The Cincinnati Enquirer (which was still the main newspaper when I lived there in the 1980s). There is also a mural of Little Nemo in Slumberland downtown, but it wasn't there when I was. I left in 1986. Here is the description. “Mural of a "Little Nemo in Slumberland" comic created by Winsor McCay over a century ago, located at 917 Main Street in downtown Cincinnati, Ohio. The mural was dedicated on October 14, 2016.”

Little Nemo Mural in Downtown Cincinnati

    He and Maude then moved to NYC, where he worked for James Gordon Bennett, Jr.'s New York Herald, at first doing illustrations and editorial cartoons. He also worked for the New York Evening Telegram.
    Well, I could go on and on. And on, with this, but you can just as easily read about this important American artist. Here is just a bit on Little Nemo from Wikipedia.

Little Nemo in Slumberland ran in the New York Herald from October 15, 1905, until July 23, 1911. The strip was renamed In the Land of Wonderful Dreams when McCay brought it to William Randolph Hearst's New York American, where it ran from September 3, 1911, until July 26, 1914. When McCay returned to the Herald in 1924, he revived the strip, and it ran under its original title from August 3, 1924, until January 9, 1927, when McCay returned to Hearst.

    As mentioned above, McCay used the size of each panel as a way to enhance the action of each scene and narrative. Wikipedia describes in more detail.

McCay experimented with the form of the comics page, its timing and pacing, the size and shape of its panels, perspective, and architectural and other detail. From the second installment, McCay had the panel sizes and layouts conform to the action in the strip: as a forest of mushrooms grew, so did the panels, and the panels shrank as the mushrooms collapsed on Nemo. In an early Thanksgiving episode, the focal action of a giant turkey gobbling Nemo's house receives an enormous circular panel in the center of the page. McCay also accommodated a sense of proportion with panel size and shape, showing elephants and dragons at a scale the reader could feel in proportion to the regular characters. McCay controlled narrative pacing through variation or repetition, as with equally-sized panels whose repeated layouts and minute differences in movement conveyed a feeling of buildup to some climactic action.

Here are the two strips described above:
"Little Nemo in Slumberland comic strip episode from October 22, 1905. Nemo dreams he is in a growing mushroom forest. Panels grow to accommodate the growing mushrooms."
"Five panels of a color comic strip. The circular center panel overwhelms the others with an image of a giant turkey lifting up and eating a house. In the other panels, a boy is shaken from the house and falls into a lake of cranberry sauce."

Nemo dreams he is in a growing mushroom forest.

Thanksgiving Episode

    Incidentally, Nemo means "No one" in Latin and was also the name of the enigmatic "Captain Nemo" of the Nautilus in Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. The Wikipedia page supplies a long list of other art and media influenced by this strip, including stage, film and musicals—way too much to include in this review. And its influence continues to this day. "A Netflix film loosely based on the strip, Slumberland, was released in 2022. It features Nemo as a young girl instead of a boy." Again, for anyone who is interested in art, art history, and the development of media techniques, I strongly urge you to read both Wikipedia pages I have linked.

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