By Windsor McKay
No-good Damn Punk Kid! For the love of god, would you just not eat before you go to bed!?!
It’s all so beautiful! Little Nemo by Windsor McKay ran in the Sunday newspaper comic section from about 1905 to 1914, and tells the tale of a little kid who has some pretty freaky dreams. Obviously I wasn’t a fan at the time (being more of a Katzenjammer Kids man), but I’ve since got into in through a big shiny book reprinting a whole bunch of them. And how lovely they are. I was pretty much speechless when I first started turning the pages, they were that good. McKay can draw really outlandish things, like a camel-drawn carriage slipping on some fudge, and really make you think, yes, that is exactly how it would look. And that guy had some imagination, jeez, you have to wonder what he was eating before bed!
Seeing as it dates to the very birth of comics, unsurpiringly the narrative lets it down a bit. McKay was still finding his feet, as everyone was, when it came to narrative story-telling. To begin with he had sentences under his panels a la Rupert, but couldn’t quiet match them up so you were never sure which sentence matches which panel. Then he just put all the story at the start, so you knew what was going to happen through the pictures. He did finally get the hang of just letting the pictures and word bubbles tell the story. Also, the story itself isn’t terribly varied, consisting of Nemo trying to get to Slumberland to play with the princess (the title being a bit misleading as he doesn’t even get to Slumberland for the first year or so) before being woken up by something or other. But, like a PG Wodehouse story, it is the repetition that allows the master to ply his craft.
The only cartoonist I can think of that even comes close to McKay is Bill Waterson. Calvin and Hobbes is certainly funnier than Little Nemo (though the bit where little George Washington got Little Nemo in trouble for chopping down a cherry tree made me chuckle). But, for my money, there isn’t anyone who could draw as just plain good as McKay (apart from Neill, obviously).
Buy on Amazon: Little Nemo in Slumberland: v. 1