May 10, 1911 [Winsor McCay, the Famous Cartoonist of the N.Y. Herald and His Moving Comics]

McCay's newspaper comics never fail to make me stop and stare. They're at once tableaux and tumblings, carefully proportioned displays of figure and posture, pleasantly arched lines combined with stately verticals and soothing horizontals. The overall effect is mesmerizing: It's a world I can't stop gazing upon, and one I'm vaguely relieved I don't have to live in, as recognizable as may be the hats and cars and bedposts of any of his Slumberlands.

Like all of his faithful, I'm most attached to Little Nemo. A genuinely new approach to illustration (to art?) emerges in this Oz/Wonder-Never-land that McCay has so conveniently supplied himself. Of course, he doesn't stand alone as a world-maker—but his drawings have a new quality, less earthbound even than John Tenniel but airier than Maxfield Parrish. Like the former, he understands the gleefully upsetting effect of planting the ordinary in extraordinary situations. But like the latter, he posits that extraordinary in an imaginary landscape—and more: one whose physics refuse to behave, and whose geometry staggers under its blithe willingness to allow parallel lines to connect, for circles to shift into squares as soon as one's back is turned. In my typical fashion, I find myself attracted to aesthetically pleasing upheavals, opposites forced together in metaphysical contortions of logic.

It seems natural that McCay should make his way to the screen. We've already seen his rarebit fiend [1906]—but the fun there was in the attempt to propel us into his world via camera tricks. But now McCay comes forward (literally, as an actor in the piece) to labor over his thousands of drawings—settling a bet, like Muybridge and Leland Stanford—and to make one chase after another, frames in a film—hearkening back to the Kineograph, but with something approaching the fluidity of his newspaper comics. Here, our favorites are stretched and pulled, put through simple paces—eventually, perhaps prophetically, drawing one another into animation.

I'll admit the newspaper strip is more satisfying—but the filmed version portends much. One by one, it appears, the arts will tumble like Flip into cinema's inkwell—well, lens.


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