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Comic Riffs
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Posted at 05:57 AM ET, 10/15/2012

WINSOR McCAY: Google’s amazing Doodle celebrates great ‘Little Nemo in Slumberland’ cartoonist

GOOGLE HAS CREATED its greatest animated Doodle ever to celebrate one of the greatest newspaper cartoonists and film animators ever.

The beautiful and brilliant interactive Doodle marks Monday’s 107th anniversary of the birth of “Little Nemo in Slumberland,” the visually unmatched fantasy strip created by Winsor McCay.

McCay’s genius has inspired a century of cartoonists -- everyone from Walt Disney to Maurice Sendak to Bill Watterson -- yet his accomplishments with the pen are appreciated by far too few. Comic Riffs can only hope that this Doodle causes millions to become curious to learn more.

“Unlike any comic strip before or since...,” wrote McCay’s biographer, John Canemaker, “Little Nemo” “represented a major creative leap, far grander in scope, imagination, color, design, and motion experimentation than any previous McCay comic strip” or those of his peers.

The Google Doodle team of artists, here spotlighting the talents of Jennifer Hom, certainly has done its homework. The animation captures McCay’s saturated colors, his exquisite nod-to-Art-Nouveau style, his visual whimsy and his sense of surreal scale -- what Canemaker called “ravishing images that stay in the mind like remembered dreams.”

Each “Slumberland” Sunday-only strip featured flights of subconscious fancy, as 6-year-old Nemo was called to King Morpheus’s castle, where he was to play with the Princess of Slumberland -- before Nemo would abruptly awaken by the last panel. The Doodle evokes McCay’s scenes, including the stilt-legged “walking bed” sequence.

“Little Nemo” -- which also featured a doctor, a cannibal and a stogie-smoking pal -- was born on the Sunday pages of the New York Herald in 1905, a year after McCay’s other important fantasy strip, “Dream of the Rarebit Fiend” (drawn under the pen name “Silas”). Just more than a decade after Joseph Pulitzer published his first color comics section, the innovative McCay was elevating the medium to the heights of masterpiece.

Several years later, McCay -- inspired by his son’s flip-book -- delved into creating motion by painstakingly producing thousands of hand-drawn and hand-colored works. Years before Disney, he helped pioneer animation as he created 10 films between 1911 and 1921, including “Little Nemo,” his acclaimed “Gertie the Dinosaur” and “Sinking of the Lusitania.” McCay even incorporated animations into his vaudeville act.

Born between 1867 and 1871 (his birth records reportedly were lost in a Spring Lake, Mich., fire), McCay would learn much at the elbow of Michigan State Normal School art teacher John Goodison before becoming an artist and reporter at the Cincinnati Enquirer.

By 1911, McCay had been hired away by publisher William Randolph Hearst, who assigned the draftsman to editorial illustration and later told him to cease spending his creative energies on film, theater and comic strips. McCay died in 1934 of a cerebral embolism and was buried in Brooklyn.

McCay’s influence can be appreciated in work by artists as varied as Sendak (“In the Night Kitchen”), Chris Ware (“Acme Novelty Library”) and Vittorio Giardino (“Little Ego”).

“As fantasist, draftsman, observer and reporter, satirist, innovator and developer of new forms,” Canemaker wrote, “McCay must be ranked among the greatest figures of 20th-century popular art.”

By Michael S Cavna  |  05:57 AM ET, 10/15/2012

 
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