Sunday, January 24, 2016

Sunday Comics #15: Winsor McCay and The Rarebit Fiend

Winsor McCay was a pioneer in everything cartoons. You could say that he perfected the way comic strips are done today and developed animation so that your cartoons could be viewed like a movie. McCay was either born in Spring Lake, Michigan or in Canada in either 1867, 1869 or 1871. McCay would spend most of his childhood drawing cartoons and early in his career would draw editorial cartoons and commercial art. While working in Cincinnati and working on a comic strip based on a poem by George Randolph Chester, McCay's work caught the attention of James Gordon Bennett of the New York Herald. McCay soon moved to New York where he would work on Mr. Goodenough, Sister's Little Sister's Beau, and Phurious Phinish of Phoolish Philipe's Phunny Phrolics. None of these strips would last long but in July 1904, McCay introduced Little Sammy Sneeze whose sneeze would build panel-by-panel until it was released with disastrous and humorous results. Little Sammy Sneeze would last until December 1906.
In 1905, McCay came up with the idea for Little Nemo in Slumberland in which a little boy named Nemo would have fantastical dreams ending with his awakening in the last panel. Nemo would become McCay's most popular strip lasting from 1905 to 1914 and again from 1924 to 1926. McCay's longest-running strip would be one with no recurring characters but also with fantastical element. Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend began in 1904 and the premise was simple: a collection of random people would have a bad dream caused by eating Welsh rarebit. The last panel would have the person wake up promising not to eat rarebit again. The strip ended in 1913 but was revived in 1923 as Rarebit Reveries which lasted until 1925.

Rarebit Fiend inspired McCay to test out animation and McCay wound up creating four short cartoons taken from the strip including How a Mosquito Operates and The Pet.

McCay focused mostly on animation after the 1920s until July 26, 1934 when he complained to his wife, Maude, of a headache. McCay discovered that his right arm--his drawing arm--was paralyzed, collapsed, and was pronounced dead of a cerebral hemorrhage later that day.

In 1906, Edwin S. Porter produced a seven-minute live-action adaptation of Dream of the Rarebit Fiend: