There is only one genius who has ever written a comic strip and his name is Winsor McCay. I know this is a bold statement to make, but I’m going to make it anyway. And I also realize that writing about a comic strip in a literary magazine may seem a bit odd, but indulge me a little and let’s see where we get to.
I first came across the work of McCay while browsing in one of those bookshops that only sell remaindered books. If I have a literary guilty secret it is that I am addicted to these establishments. The lure of a cut-price book, the siren call of an unfamiliar, intriguing title, and the utter lack of pretension of these places are irresistible.
On this particular day what caught my eye was a large-format hardback entitled The Complete Little Nemo in Slumberland, Volume 1: 1905–1907. I picked it up, opened the cover, and fell into a magical world.
The premise of this comic strip is simple. In the very first frame, Morpheus, the King of Slumberland, ‘requests the presence of Little Nemo’. The strip then consists of what happens to Little Nemo when he leaves the safety of his bed and travels through Slumberland to meet the king. The last frame of every strip always has Nemo waking up back in the reassuring familiarity of his bedroom. Often he finds that he has fallen out of bed. And sometimes his mother or father is there to welcome him back to reality.
I bought the book.
The simplest description of what lies within the pages of McCay’s books is given in a caption that sits underneath the fourth panel of that very first strip. Here the Oomp who acts as Nemo’s guide states: ‘Slumberland is a long way off through many miles of weird scenes.’ He then adds, ‘But be good to your horse, and you will arrive there safe and sound.’ And there are, indeed, many miles of weird scenes.
In one strip Nemo is woken by his worried mother who tells him their whole house is shaking. Peering out of the veranda he finds the hou
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