I must have been a good boy this year, because Santa brought me a very nice treat indeed: a copy of Little Nemo in Slumberland – So many Splendid Sundays. This is a wonderful collection of 100 examples of one of the most beautiful comics ever created.
There are other collections of Little Nemo pages, but the real treat here is that these are presented as they were meant to be seen: at the size of a full Sunday newspaper page! Wow. It’s been 100 years (in October) since Nemo began appearing in Newspapers and almost that long since the pages have been seen at their true size by anyone but collectors.
The book was lovingly crafted by Peter Maresca. (The book is out of stock with the publisher until March of 2006, but you may be able to find it at Amazon.)
How can I describe Little Nemo? (Sigh.) Little Nemo in Slumberland was a stunningly beautiful, wildly imaginative, surreal, dazzling, spectacular, dizzying, marvelous, jaw-dropping, eye-popping, mind-expanding work of comic art. (Have I gotten the idea across?)
McCay was a virtuoso draughtsman and a superb colorist, and one of the finest masters of the comic art form. He played with time and space, perspective and proportion, color and design in ways that few artists (in any medium) can ever hope to match.
He also did several other comic strips, including Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend and Little Sammy Sneeze, created elegant illustrations and beautifully drawn social commentary cartoons (a bit like extravagant political cartoons, but more general in topic) and was one of the earliest creators of cartoon animation with his groundbreaking film Gertie the Dinosaur, all at the time when comics and movies were just starting to develop.
To say McCay was a comic art pioneer is like saying Newton was good at physics.
McCay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland and George Harriman’s Krazy Kat are probably the two finest examples of comics as high art. This is such stuff as dreams are made on.
Rather than go on for pages and pages I’ll point you to some resources.
Here is a nicely illustrated Wikipedia article on Little Nemo and on McCay, a Little Nemo article on Toonpedia and an informative review of So Many Splendid Sundays on Salon (requires watching an ad to read the entire article.).
The site I link at the bottom of this post has the best reproductions of Nemo pages I’ve found on the web, but here are a few others from my bookmarks. There are three full pages linked from here. (The site’s not in English, but the links are graphic.) There are several linked from here, another page here, and more individual pages posted here and here and here and here. Some smaller ones here and here and some black and white pages here and here.
If you’re hooked, but can’t get So Many Splendid Sundays, there are other (smaller but less expensive) Little Nemo collections worth considering. Little Nemo 1905-1914 is nicely done and probably has the most strips in one volume. The Complete Little Nemo in Slumberland series (6 volumes) is a bit larger in page size, but the paper is matte and the colors are not as rich as the former title.
There is also a new book on Winsor McCay: His Life and Art, and Daydreams and Nightmares, a collection of his other (mostly black and white) illustration.
If you do get any of the books, resist the temptation to read through them in a hurry. The best way to read Little Nemo is to savor it one strip at a time. Try reading one a week (OK, one a day), perhaps just before going to bed, or even better, sprawled out on the floor on a Sunday morning; but imagine that there is no radio, no movies, no television, and you have to wait a week in delicious anticipation of the next Splendid Sunday.