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The Complete Little Nemo 1905–1909 by Winsor McCay

August 14, 2017

Winsor McCay looms so large over the world of cartooning and animation that no ordinary book can contain the majesty of his work. This is no ordinary book.

It measures 13.5 x 17.3, clocks in at 368 pages, and weighs a smidge over 9 pounds. It's a massive, turn-of-the-century atlas of a little boy’s dreams, an experiment with the then still new form of the comic strip, and a objet d'art that will protect your coffee table or bookshelf from a stiff wind.

This comic strip explores the dreams of the titular Little Nemo as he finds himself in one surreal predicament after another. Each strip ends with Nemo waking up in the final panel, the shock on his face mirroring that of his readers.

Prior to his comic strip work, McCay drew gag strips, editorial cartoons, and posters for dime museums. Between 1911 and 1921 he produced ten animated films. The first of these, based on the Little Nemo strip, required four thousand drawings to bring the characters to life.

Despite all his wonderful work, it’s important to remember that McCay is a product of his times. Like many popular entertainments of the era, Little Nemo is marred by racist caricatures, particularly in the character of Flip the Clown and the little Imp. These are included both in this book and other collections of the artist’s work.   

McCay used as much of the page as he could, creating landscapes of surprising depth and texture, and he played with perspective, creating dizzying effects which predated psychedelia by sixty years. The size of this book allows readers to dive into the work just as turn of the century readers did every Sunday morning.

Comic book panel of man expressing horror avatar


Jeremy Estes has worked for Nashville Public Library since 2008. He loves comic books and dislikes the term “graphic novels”. He hosts Panel Discussion, a comics book club for adults, on the first Wednesday of the month at 12pm at the Main Library.