Little Nemo in Slumberland Review
by Karissa Adams
If you need a break from reading Superhero comics and Internet memes, check out some classic comic strips! Little Nemo in Slumberland is a great place to start, created by the master comic artist Winsor McCay at the beginning of the 20th century.
Little Nemo was a full page strip, produced weekly, first in the New York Herald in 1905 and later in the New York American in 1911. (McCay would return to the Herald in 1924). The strip starred a little boy named Nemo and his fantastical dreams through a dream world called Slumberland. Of course, one could gain that much from the title itself. Each strip of this comic series added a new episode to Nemo’s adventures with the princess of Slumberland, a green- faced character named Flip, and a number of other exciting caricatures. Sadly, these dreams always ended with him waking up in his bed. However, the adventurous narrative continuously picked up again in the next strip, or dream. Don’t we wish our dreams did that?
What makes the strip so magical is the beautiful artistic rendering by McCay. The pages are layered with color, exquisitely detailed, and drawn with architectural precision. They include cityscapes, palaces, pirate ships, frozen gardens, and ever more beautiful scenery. The panels are often large, giving the reader a sense of the dream world; the characters regularly dwarf in comparison. Nemo’s little face is nothing more than a few dots on his tiny pajama-draped body. The fact that the episodes follow one after another in a continuous narrative gives the feel that this is a real place, and not a dream. Rather than being about Little Nemo, who happens to be in Slumberland, it is a strip about Slumberland, which happens to get visits from a Little Nemo.
This comic has many qualities in its favor. However, it also has a few flaws. For example, one of the characters that Nemo shares his adventures with is a highly caricaturized African boy named Imp. There are other African “savage cannibals” that appear in some of the pages when Nemo visits a tropical island. If one wanted to give McCay some grace, however, one might argue that it was included in the strip simply because that was acceptable in the time and culture, and not out of malice. But that is a topic for another time.
One may also notice while reading these comics another possible flaw. The word bubbles, and the words inside of them, are so small that they are nearly impossible to read. Sometimes, the words get smaller in the bubble and wrap around the bottom corner a bit, similar to when one writes on a poster board and runs out of room at the end. Why would an artist who took such pains to create a realistic landscape have so little regard for the dialogue? Perhaps the narrative isn’t the point of the story, or at least it doesn’t play as prominent of a role as the artwork. In that case, it would make sense to consider that the comic is about the place, and not about the boy who visits.
If you want to catch up on the comics classics, I would highly recommend exploring Slumberland with Little Nemo. You’ll be awed by the spectacular view and artistry, drawn by a comic genius 100 years ago. The view is spectacular, colorful, and breathtaking. And yet, it is all a dream.