little nemo in slumberland


Little Nemo & the Nightmare Fiends: A Winsor McCay video game!

My decades-long fascination with Little Nemo has been well-documented (beginning with Iconography #0). But as I’ve spent quarantine researching platinum age public domain characters and learning game design, never did it occur to me to put the two together. Fortunately, the folks at Pie for Breakfast studios, who actually know what they’re doing, saw the potential of a Little Nemo in Slumberland game–and it is gorgeous. It’s everything you want a Winsor McCay comic to be. Like most elder millennials, I discovered the comic through NES. And with due respect to Ray Bradbury, that anime and its video game adaptation are somewhat afield of McCay’s vision.

But THIS…wow!


Toyfare “Rag” pitches that never made it

Pursuant to the “Hulk to Smash” article, some old pitches and notes:

–“Corpse Bride” Sequel Planned

sub: Hilton to Wed in June

(a brief one about Paris Hilton’s upcoming nuptials, with wedding director Tim Burton coordinating the ghastliness)

–“LOST” Villains Revealed

sub: Seven stranded castaways behind campaign of terror

(this, naturally, would be about Gilligan and Co.)

–“MAD” Tumbles Eagerly Toward Soft Irrelevance
(frankly, this one only works if we show the Family Guy/Simpsons cover that’s about five years too late and not that original a joke)

–J.K. Rowling Harvests More Souls
sub: Extends life another five years

(this could be about keeping herself young and healthy by collecting young minds for Satan via witchcraft. The fundamentalists were right!)

or:
–J.K. Rowling Announces Potter Book 7: “Reloaded”

(in which the literary world’s most successful franchise in decades makes the same mistakes as The Matrix did, and gives us a crapout ending)

–Newsarama interviews Kevin Smith

sub: Website Content Now 80% Nerd, 12% Butter

(a bit of meanness about how by interviewing Smith, the site has reached fatty nerd critical mass)

–DC to release “Supermega Steaming Pile of Infinite-Plus-One Hyper-Crises”
sub: Company to Release All Possible Stories in Existence Simultaneously
Gorgeous art, impossible story:
(George Perez, Phil Jimenez, and their numberless twins on parallel worlds have been tapped to draw everything that has ever been conceived, as well as everything that has not. The mighty task, DiDio says, balances itself out by eliminating the need for writers.
Jimenez, speaking wearily from the infinite, hyper-dimensional string of desks to which he is chained, cited fatigue, friction, and deadlines as major obstacles, but explained the biggest stumbling block was drawing that which is neither physically nor visually possible. “George killed himself in the middle of the sequence in which a Square Circle with Ma Hunkel’s face steals the Infinity Gauntlet from the Marvel Universe, then kills Superman by dropping a rock so big even she can’t lift it on him.” A dehydrated Jimenez added, “Wow! I get to finish my art hero’s layouts!”)

–Grant Morrison Rises on Third Day

sub: Redeems humanity after dying on crossover

(a piece about how Grant’s exotic ideas and love for all humanity led him to literally die while working on Seven Soldiers, or, if you prefer, Grant Morrison the character from Animal Man sneaking into Seven Soldiers to die within its pages. Probably both, given the man’s theories on metafiction. Anyway, the best part is you get the line about him being tempted in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights by Warren Ellis).

–Little Nemo in Slumberland Celebrates 100th Anniversary Quietly at Home

sub: Pioneering strip ‘doesn’t want anyone fussing over me’

(October was the 100th anniversary of the strip’s debut, and nobody marked it. Boo hoo’)

–Bush Giggles Delightedly at Stikfa

sub: Thousands dead in Volcanic earthquake as President enjoys toy, snack, nap

(a bit about how easily distracted President Bush is, but can you blame him with toys this awesome? Cheney had to take it away to get him to come to dinner)

–“Shield” Figures Collect Protection from Other Toys

sub: Chiklis, Goggins Hijack Cobra Booty

(The badass cops from ‘The Shield’ demand tribute from the other toys on the building block’)

–Lego Announces New Mature Sets

sub: S&M party, Meth lab among fall releases

(Citing the enduring popularity of the multi-morphic toys well into adult age groups, Lego announced that it would begin tailoring sets to the

–Bam-Bam, Thank Ya, Ma’am
Sub: Pebbles files for divorce

(a spoof on Renee Zellweger and that country music yahoo. ‘The file for annulment cited ‘fraud’ on Mr. Rubble’s part. Publicists for Rubble and Ms. Flintstone-Rubble declined to return reporters’ calls.)

–Infinity Gauntlet Used to Make, Get Girls

sub: 30 year-old wills lingerie models with nerd fetish into existence

(“Ho ho!” Laughs nerd. “Absolute power attracts absolutely!”)

–Bionic Six wait patiently for nostalgic revival

sub: forgotten super-family fails to ride ’80s and ‘Incredibles’ waves of popularity

–Lion-O Dead at 33
sub: Chokes on Hairball
(“It was awful,” wailed Lion-O’s lifemate, Panthor. “He stuck the Sword of Omens down his throat, but he couldn’t yell “Thunder-thunder-thundercats!” without choking and wheezing.” The sword failed to extend magically and dislodge the hairball.)

–Ork-O Sadly Declines Lap Dance Offer

sub: Imp produces magical wad of bills,
(SKOKIE, ETERNIA- The Sorcerer Laureate of Eternia tearfully refused a proffered lap dance Friday, despite eagerly staring at the barbarian hordes of girls at Jiggles Exotic Dance Club. Witnesses say Orko, the extradimensional troll who serves the Eternian royal family was able to summon a magical wad of 20-dollar bills, but no lap. Without legs, the hovering necromancer was forced to decline a dance from Alysin Cane, 25. This is not the first such defeat for Orko, whose botched magical attempts perpetually amuse and annoy. In October he was rebuked by Jiggles owner Ryan Dennehy, for smelling like brimstone and hydrochloric acid, while last year he was left out of a round of body shots when it was explained the removing the scarf that covers his mouth would unleash the 58 Hounds of Grokkor, a hellbound entity condemned to hunt the sins of man for all eternity. THEN WE GO INTO THE LUSCIOUS TASTES OF THE FLESH DENIED TO THE POOR LITTLE IMP.)

and my personal favorite:

–Ask a Character Written By Brian Michael Bendis
(only because I know you won’t let me do Ask a Black Character Written by Brian Michael Bendis, who tend to provide bleeped-out swears and sassy backtalk by the bucketful!)

Dear Character Written by Brian Michael Bendis:

I’m a single mom working a full-time job with two teenagers. I love them both dearly, but I’d love to meet someone and I have no time for myself! Worse, all the men my age are either taken, or scared off by the “kid baggage.” How can I find true love?

–Hopeless in Hoboken

Dear Hopeless in Hoboken:

This–
This is big.
You’re saying to me–excuse me, if I get this right–what you’re saying is, and I’m just guessing here. But what you’re telling me is huge, and what you’re telling me is this: you need–

I need to meet–

Meet someone. Right. And this isn’t just someone, like, excuse me, the guy at the busstop, or your gynecologist. This is like…wow. The big thing. And you can’t meet someone because you’re all alone. (and I’m not saying that vindictively, I just–wow. According to my spellcheck vindictive doesn’t have a K in it. Anyway). But you want–

True love.

Right. Not just the usual cocktails and enemas. But–hold on–okay, so you know how everyone believes in true love, but like, no one can explain what it’s like in words?

Totally.

That’s because Love is blind, and it is OFFICIALLY urban legend.

Woah! You’re yanking my–

And you’re going to stay alone–Wait, listen. Stay alone, because, and I’m not saying this is true, but come on, it’s so like everyone in your situation, because you can’t admit that the problem might be with you.

So the problem is with me?

The problem is with you.

Me.

You. I’m pointing at you.

You haven’t answered my question.

Whatever. I sooooo don’t need this.

(answer continued next month in part 6 of 6, possibly 7, issues.)

A Character Written by Brian Michael Bendis is the author of five monthly advice columns appearing weekly in the Marvel universe.
OTHER ASKS:

A Malfunctioning Doombot ‘ all of the ego, plus homicidal robot tendencies! Plus he develops sentience halfway through the column and has an existential crisis.

e.g.

Bah! So you have uncovered Doom’s ruse! It is no matter! I am possessed of the same intellect as ‘bzzkt!’almighty Doom, but with an invincible hide! And’yet, what is this disruption in my neural patterns when I ‘zzt!’ gaze on Susan Richards? Doombot does not understand your human ‘e-mo-tion’ called love!

Batroc Ze Leaper ‘ oh ho ho! It is funny when sissies zink zey are tough! Batroc’s advice surely leads one down the wrong path because he just can’t perceive when he or his audience is outclassed:

Later, in the hospital, I reflected on my glorious triumph in showing that popinjay his comeuppance!

Jeph Loeb’s Superman and Batman ‘ Featuring the extremely affectionate dialogue of the world’s finest team. These two just can’t answer a question without drifting into adoring thoughts of each other.

e.g.

Dear World’s Finest Team,

My brother’s always borrowing things and never returning them! I try to be nice, but I feel he’s taking advantage of me? What can I do to let him know enough is enough?

Bruce knows to let me handle this one. He says he works best alone, but neither of us can deny the powerful results of our union this time out.

Clark’s probably doubting whether I can play ball. I’d never admit it to him, but we’re an excellent pair. His speed and my attention to detail make us the world’s finest team. He’s like the brother I might have had. The brother I’m proud to have.

A Jedi Padawan ‘ The advice of adorable little Bi’wo Cutenoggins abruptly cuts off following a joyful greeting addressed to Anakin.

Dear Jedi Padawan,

My brother’s always borrowing things and never returning them! I try to be nice, but I feel he’s taking advantage of me? What can I do to let him know enough is enough?

Anakin! Hey, look everybody, it’s Anakin! We don’t have to hide anymore, Master Anakin is here to protect us! Yay, Anakin! Take us to freedom, Anakin! We trust you to find the way! Come on, everyo’

(and then just a long, three inches of blank column. I swear, it’d be the funniest)

A Marvel PR rep ‘ Yes, no matter what the storyline coming down the pipe, Marvel ensures you’ll go bonkers! Watch as our mole at Marvel tries to spin the disastrous new storylines for 2006, only to shame himself.

Dear Marvel PR Rep,

My brother’s always borrowing things and never returning them! I try to be nice, but I feel he’s taking advantage of me? What can I do to let him know enough is enough?

Good news for your brother, Screwed in Skokie! The world’s greatest adventure magazine just got a fresh new face! That’s right, the secret is ready to be revealed; Power Pack will replace the Fantastic Four after Reed’s hubris turns the FF into alcoholic chickens! WOAH, anything can happen here at the House of Ideas! That’s great And guess who the Mystery Avenger is? After Daredevil, Elektra, Echo and John Byrne were all leaked, we went with our first pick. That’s right, Spider-Man’s new nemesis The Other! Who, in turn, will be revealed to be Uncle Ben. You love it! Keep an eye out for all eight alternate covers!


Remember the Great Curve? pt. 2

The other piece I wrote for Alex Segura’s Great Curve comics blog in 2006, commemorating 100 years of Little Nemo in Slumberland. Man, was I into that strip. The art is mind-blowing. There was this sharp line that year between having to scrimp to find any out-of-print Nemo books or merchandise, and it all suddenly blasting into production. Now you can buy full-size collections, complete collections, anything you like.

Fun fact: Winsor McCay’s buried near my house. I’ve been to his grave a few times.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, LITTLE NEMO!

Saturday hosts the centennial celebration of Winsor McCay’s magnum opus, “Little Nemo on Slumberland,” which debuted as a full-page comic strip in the New York Herald on October 15, 1905. On that day, readers met Little Nemo for the first time, as he answered King Morpheus’ invitation to befriend the Princess.

As was the custom for many strips of the day, “Slumberland” operated on a repeating gag about a cute kid, such as McCay’s previous creation, “Little Sammy Sneeze.” But while Sammy predictably upended canoes and carriages to receive a boot in the rear by the final panel, Nemo’s adventures were polymorphous. His extended quest to reach the gates of Slumberland began with a high-speed trip on a “night mare” steed, only to wake up while hurtling to his death. Falls and collapsing structures tormented the poor six year-old, who was also peppered with arrows, chased by ogres, and frozen into ice. This last tribulation provided one of the most horrifying moments in the story’s eight-year journey, when Nemo’s mother placed him in front of the fire to thaw, and all but his head melted into a puddle.

But if “Slumberland” was cruel to its protagonist, it was still better treatment than Nemo’s fellow somnadventurists received in the strip’s forerunner and contemporary, “Dreams of a Rarebit Fiend.” There, McCay tormented a nameless cast with trips to Hell, physical mutilation and spontaneous combustion, under the pseudonym Silas. Nemo had a far better time of it, meeting Santa Claus, fighting pirates, and exploring Mars in between life-threatening experiences. Whatever the shape of the dream, Nemo was sure to wake up in the end, and often to find himself right back at his

“Slumberland” concluded in 1914 under the name “In the Land of Wonderful Dreams,” a title change necessitated by its move to Hearst papers. McCay died in 1934, having spent the latter part of his life on editorial cartoons, animated efforts. A revived vaudeville career was squelched by Hearst, a born conspirator.

Though erroneously touted as the father of animation, McCay is certainly the godfather, transforming brief stick-figure dances into works of ambition that reached for the moon while the rest of the fledgling medium tried to ascertain if the world was round. So convincing was his “Gertie the Dinosaur” featurette (which was most likely the first interactive film performance), that audiences unconditioned to animation, as noted by Alan Moore in the final issue of Promethea, thought they were watching a documentary of an actual living fossil.

His very first animation was 1911’s “Little Nemo,” (the first color film? Almost certainly the first color animation) which, like all his films, he drew entirely by himself: a titanic feat today, let alone with no mould yet cast for an expedient method of producing high-quality work. It remains a visually wonderful film, as does all of the McCay filmography, though several pieces may be boring to modern eyes without a strong story. Like its inspiration the film’s visual dazzle sometimes eclipses the tale. Bill Waterson, creator of the cherished strip “Calvin & Hobbes,” once wrote that McCay “is more concerned with his stage than his players,” a fair assessment given “Slumberland’s” crammed word balloons whose dialogue seems to have been the last part of the cartooning process to receive any attention.

But if actions speak louder than words, we can still glean nice characterization from the passive, obedient Nemo whose concern and care move him to independent action only to save the well-being of others, including his enemies. His foil lies in Flip, a clown-faced, hobo-dapper rogue with a Brooklyn accent who chomps on cigars and either deliberately or accidentally causes havoc wherever the two travel. More to his credit, Flip is “an outcast relative of the Dawn family” and “The son of the Sun,” who summons his uncle the Dawn to dissolve Dreamland when events don’t go his way.

Their adversarial chase to reach the princess first soon turns to a strong friendship, dragging each other into adventure and then extricating themselves. Perhaps the most impressive maneuver comes when pirates want Flip to walk the plank, and the audacious brat strolls out fearlessly, then proclaims that he can call his uncle and melt them all. “Shall I jump?” he asks cockily, and the horde of bloodthirsty pirates mewls for mercy.

They were joined, of course, by the Princess, a pleasant girl eager to show Nemo the wonders of her empire, but otherwise as flat a character as Nemo would be were he not forced into action by the story.

And then…there’s Impie. The character was imported from an earlier strip drawn by McCay and written by a fellow newspaper employee, called the “Tales of the Jungle Imps,” a series of modern fables about how animals got their current shapes at the hands of the Imps. In “Slumberland’s” version, despite his gross appearance, Impie’s father the king contradictorily seems to lead a peaceful, enlightened nation, and he speaks eruditely. Nevertheless, son Impie is an irreconcilable blend of awful racial stereotype and delightful irritant (his mischief gives Flip a taste of the treatment shown to Nemo and perhaps speeds their friendship), Impie has an unfaltering zest for fun and excitement, but perpetually exemplifies the conflict between the strip’s message of agape and the unity of mankind, and a string of characters that are at best described as unenlightened examples of the time. At worst, and more honestly, they are ignorantly racist caricatures, however benevolent their appearance.

A few others come and go from their ranks: Dr. Pill (the self-important royal physician), the Candy Kid (who’d probably join their play if he weren’t so genteel), the Old Magician or Old Priest, and an unnamed fellow who functions as Flip’s sidekick or boxing ring manager from time to time.

McCay graduated from Michigan State Normal College, known today as Eastern Michigan University (and the center of an impressive collection of comic art). He drew circus posters and performed vaudeville before landing in cartooning, where he pioneered a number of methods that have rarely been utilized, such as breaking a single background picture into several panels to chart characters’ movements through a scene.

McCay’s art nouveau style used the thick contours and scant interior detail that originated with the movement’s founder, Alphonse Mucha, to achieve an ornate style that came wonderfully characterizes the foglike fantasy of dreams and theater, respectively. But where Mucha’s posters used ornate designs to create whirling patterns, McCay frequently grounded his strips in concrete, photorealistic scenes, if only to distort them.

If it were only his mastery of perspective in both artificial and natural forms that made the strip notable, McCay might be more readily imitated today, but his instinct for storytelling techniques and visual tricks that reflect the material make him a harder being to mimic.

Though recognition for his work has only lately begun to rise, the man’s influence extends far, and can be found in a number of maor strips, books and movies.

Frank King’s “Gasoline Alley” played with dreams and distortion in much the same way, while children’s author Maurice Sendak (Where the Wild Things Are, In the Night Kitchen) and Pultizer-Prize winning cartoonist Art Spiegelman (Maus, In the Shadow of No Towers) proudly acknowledge the inspiration found in McCay’s skills and techniques. Walt Disney, while giving the artist’s son (and Nemo model) Robert McCay, a tour of the new Disneyland theme park, said none of it would exist if not for his father. Mark Waid named the main character of Kingdom Come, who inherits the Sandman’s dreams, after McCay. Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman have done “Slumberland” tribute issues in Promethea and Sandman respectively. There is also a fair argument to be made that The Matrix pays homage to Nemo’s story.

McCay died in 1934 and is buried in The Lawn section of Evergreen Cemetary, in Brooklyn, NY. Robert attempted to continue the Nemo legacy, but it never succeeded, and he slipped through the fledgling comic book industry, working alongside artists like Gill Fox. Disney, that bastion of copyright extension, pounced on an anime adaptation of the strip for stateside release, as soon as it was possible to do so, but despite a script by Ray Bradbury, the film flopped, perhaps deservedly given the completely alien plot elements of magic keys and an invading Nightmare King. The entire franchise is perhaps best known in America today for the video game adapting the movie into a Nintendo cartridge. The U.S. Post Office released a stamp commemorating the strip alongside 19 other Platinum Age comics in 1995.

It’s been 100 years. Isn’t it time the art world gave “Little Nemo” the credit it deserves?