Background about Winsor McCay
gifted with an incredible imagination and he utilized it to create
landmark comic strips and animation. While McCay is probably
most well-know for his comic masterpiece, Little
Nemo in Slumberland(1905 - 1911) which introduced new
ideas related to sequence and layout, his contribution to animaltion
was equally pivotal. Among his credits were the first animated
films to be made entirely of artwork (a "Little Nemo"
film, 1908) and the first to feature a character developed specifically
for animation, not a comic strip (Gertie
the Dinosaur, 1914). The concepts that McCay explored
in his comic strips, such as progressive action, proved to be
useful preparation for his animation. Chuck Jones
"The two most important peope in animation are Winsor McCay
and Walt Disney, and I'm not sure which should go first".*
creative exploration was curtailed as his career progressed. As
his comic strip and animation efforts grew in popularity, his
employer, William Randolph Hearst, gradually sought to have his
creative efforts devoted almost exclusively to the illustration
of columns in his newspapers. At the end of his career, McCay
drew no comic strips and was permitted only small amounts of time
to puruse animation and his other creative joy, presenting chalk-talks
on the vaudeville stage.
Winsor McCay was
born either in 1867 in Canada or in 1869 in the United States,
in Michigan. In his late teens, he made his way to Chicago where,
with only limited art training, he illustrated posters. His employer
was the National Printing Company and his subjects were
Chicago, McCay moved to Cincinnati during the late 1880's. In
Cincinnati, he first secured work as an illustrator, creating
advertising posters for the Kohl and Middleton Dime Museum.
was an important year for McCay: He began his newspaper career
and he married Maude Leonore Dufour. He joined the Cincinnati
Times-Star working as an editorial cartoonist and as
a reporter. Between 1891 and 1903, McCay's newspaper cartoon career
progressed as he moved from the Times-Star to the Cincinnati
Commercial Tribune and then the to Cincinnati
Enquirer. During these years, he refined his skill
as a draftsman and produced his first comic strip, Tales
of the Jungle Imps, which debuted in 1903.
1903 comic strips were gaining in popularity and newspapers sought
to attract top cartoonists. This prompted the McCays to move to
New York. In New York, McCay began to work for both the Evening
Telegram, where his work appeared under the pseudonym
Silas, and for the Telegram's sister publication, the Herald,
where he produced cartoons under his own name. As Silas, in the
Evening Telegram, McCay's efforts included Dull
Care and Poor Jake. McCay
was equally prodigious for the Herald creating"Little
Sammy Sneeze, Hungry Henrietta
and, Sister's Little Sister's Beau.
In fact, it was in the Herald that McCay's comic strip masterpiece
was first published: Little Nemo in Slumberland
was introduced in October, 1905 and continued until 1911.
this period, McCay's creative endeavors expanded. He performed
in vaudeville where his act was Speed
Drawing characters from his print work. Plus, sometime
between 1909 and 1911, McCay began to work in animation,
initially with the thought of including the animated images in
his vaudeville act.
1911, McCay switched papers, moving to the New
York American which was owned by William Randolph Hearst.
"Little Nemo" was discontinued in conjunction with this
change and McCay went to work creating new comic strips, including
"In the Land of
Wonderful Dreams" and drawing editorial cartoons but
his creative focus was on his vaudeville act and on animation.
Gertie the Dinosaur was released
in 1914 to widespread acclaim.
was less than thrilled by the extent of McCay's vaudeville and
independent animation efforts. He gradually required that McCay
curtail his vaudeville work; earlier he had eliminated his daily
comic strips. McCay was to focus on creating editorial cartoons
which he did until his contract with Hearst concluded in 1924.
However, McCay was able to devote some time to animation and he
produced more than six films through 1921. Among these six was
The Sinking of the Lusitania
which was one of the first to use cels.
1924 - 1934, McCay continued to work as a cartoonist. He returned
to the Herald during 1924 - 1926 where he attempted to revive
"Little Nemo". He concluded his career drawing editorial
McCay passed away on July 26, 1934 after suffering a stroke.
Winsor McCay images included here are from the Ohio
State University Treasury of Fine Art, Cartoon Research Library.
John Canemaker, Winsor McCay, His Life and Art (New York, Abbeville
Press, 1987) , 211