Little Nemo, the main fictional character by Winsor McCay (1871-1934), appeared in the “New York Herald” on October 15, 1905.
Although a comic strip, it was far from a simple children’s fantasy; it was often dark, surreal, threatening and even violent. The strip related the dreams of a little boy: Nemo (meaning “nobody” in Latin), the hero. The last panel in each strip was always one of Nemo in or near his bed waking up, often being scolded by one of his parents or grandparents for crying out in his sleep and waking them. In the earliest strips, the dream event that woke him up would always be some mishap or disaster that seemed about to lead to serious injury or death, such as being crushed by giant mushrooms, being turned into a monkey, falling from a bridge being held up by “slaves”, or gaining 90 years in age. The adventures leading to these disasters all had a common purpose: to get to Slumberland, where he had been summoned by King Morpheus, to be the “playmate” of his daughter, the Princess.
Sometime during early 1906, Nemo did indeed reach the gates of Slumberland, but had to go through about four months of troubles to reach the Princess. His problem was that he kept being awakened by Flip, who wore a hat with “Wake Up” written on it. One sight of Flip’s hat was enough to take Nemo back to the land of the living during these early days. Although at first an enemy, Flip went on to become one of the recurring heroes. The others included: Dr Pill, The Imp, the Candy Kid and Santa Claus as well as the Princess and King Morpheus.
Few “comic” artists of any generation have ever matched, and even fewer have surpassed, the fertility of McCay’s imagination. Certain episodes are particularly famous. Any list of these would have to include the Night of the Living Houses (said to be the first comic strip to enter the collection of the Louvre) where Nemo and a friend are chased down a city street by a gang of tenement houses on legs; the Walking Bed, where Nemo and Flip ride over the rooftops o
n the increasingly long limbs of Nemo’s bed (see illustration); and the Befuddle Hall sequence, where Nemo and his friends attempt to find their way out of a funhouse environment of a Beaux Arts interior turned topsy-turvy. McCay’s mastery of perspective, and the extreme elegance of his line work, make his visions graphically wondrous.
The strips, along with most of the rest of McCay’s works, fell into the public domain worldwide on January 1, 2005.
Sources: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia