December 9, 2007


'The Complete Dream of the Rarebit Fiend' by Winsor McCay
: A tribute to the early 20th century illustrator's longest-running comic strip. (Charles Solomon, 12/09/07, Los Angeles Times)

Although his name is hardly a household word, Winsor McCay ranks as a giant among 20th century cartoonists and illustrators. As an editorial cartoonist, he rivals even Thomas Nast in his drawings, although McCay had the unenviable assignment of illustrating the polemics of William Randolph Hearst's New York American editor Arthur Brisbane. He began making films with "Little Nemo" (1911), and his animation was unequaled until the glory days of the Disney Studio in the 1930s. As a comic strip artist, he is at the pinnacle of the medium, with George Herriman, Milt Caniff, Charles Schulz and Bill Watterson, for his draftsmanship and visual imagination.

McCay was born in Spring Lake, Mich., probably in 1869. He initially dreamed of becoming a humor artist in the tradition of A.B. Frost, the illustrator of "Uncle Remus." As a young man, he found work drawing posters and scenery for traveling carnivals and circuses. In 1898, McCay joined the Cincinnati Enquirer as a reporter and illustrator.

His first comic strip, "Tales of the Jungle Imps by Felix Fiddle," caught the eye of James Gordon Bennett Jr., the publisher of the New York Herald and Evening Telegram. Bennett brought McCay to New York, where he drew his two greatest strips for the Bennett papers. In 1904, McCay began "Dream of the Rarebit Fiend" in the Telegram, followed by "Little Nemo in Slumberland" for the Herald in 1905. Both works showcased his ability to imbue drawings of anything and everything with a sense of weight, solidity and presence.

While nothing can match the original artwork, the film version of Little Nemo is one of the most underappreciated children's movies of all time. Anyone who loves Kiki's Delivery Service will love Nemo.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 9, 2007 9:07 AM
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