The Ink that dreams are made of, 1: In slumberland with Little Nemo

little nemo.jpg

Winsor McCay (1869-1934), “Little Nemo in Slumberland,” Won’t You be my Valentine? China ink on paper pasted on cardboard for a comic strip published on February 9, 1908 in the New York Herald. Artcurial pre-sale estimate (see story below): $45,000 – $70,000. Image courtesy and copyright Artcurial.

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2016 Paul Ben-Itzak

Not only was Winsor McKay (1871 – 1934) one of the pioneers of comics, above all with “Little Nemo in Slumberland,” launched on October 1, 1905 in the Sunday color supplement of the New York Herald, where it continued until April 23, 1911 (to be resurrected from 1924 through 1927); he singularly invented the motion picture cartoon, beginning by animating 4,000 drawings of Little Nemo in 1909, projected onto a screen at New York’s Hammerstein Theater. “But it was when I directed ‘Gertie the dinosaur’ that the public understood that I was making drawings move,” McKay later recalled. Appearing live with his cartoon at picture houses around the country, he invited Gertie to eat an apple out of his hand. “Gertie lowered her long neck and swallowed the apple, to the delight of the audience.” If the original india ink on cardboard drawing for the February 9, 1908 “Won’t You Be my Valentine?” strip on sale in Artcurial’s October 3 sale of Comics and Street Art — the leading Paris auction house’s second sale in Hong Kong, in association with Spink — lacks the vast surrealistic dreamland landscapes of fauna, forests, and palaces of McKay’s earlier period, as he headed in a more flat, compressed direction, it’s still a rarity in auction-land. (And if we share the drawing today, we don’t endorse the racial stereotyping characters like Imp, above, and other Windsay personnae promoted, a widespread tendency shared by other artists and writers of his epoch and afterwards whose de-humanizing effect continues to have ramifications today.) Source for background, quotation, and strip date: “Little Nemo,” Winsor McKay, introduced and translated by Claude Moliterni and Pierre Couperie, with the collaboration of Philippe Druillet, Charles Cohen, André Couture, and Paul Daubannay. Paris, 1994. Published by Pierre Horay.

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