I always felt that the benefit of comics and graphic novels was the ability to use words and images in equal effect to tell a story. Masereel’s The City challenged this viewpoint, but there was still a story buried in those black and white woodcuts. The stories Little Nemo in Slumberland are a series of surreal adventures undertaken but a young boy while he is sleeping. The imagery is stunning. Even by today’s standards it is beautiful, provocative, arresting, and sometimes disturbing, especially when you consider the comic was intended for children. The issue that featured the images mirrored against each other was years ahead of its time and the level of detail on an elephant in one issue is amazing.
Despite the artwork, however, Little Nemo fails to tell a worthwhile story. The stories have next to zero logic and seem only to exist to give the images purpose. The dialogue is tiny and obscured to the point where it feels almost as if the panels are pushing the words out of view. There is no resolution in any story except “You probably shouldn’t eat that before bed Nemo,” and this is mainly due to the limited time the comic has in its one-page spread. This limited time is especially frustrating when the comic seems actually have an engaging story running through, such as the one where Nemo picks a lady friend only to find that she is made of paper. Just when it becomes interesting, Nemo must awaken from his slumber because we are at the bottom of the page.
Winsor McCay is a legend and for good reason. Artwork as sophisticated as his wouldn’t appear again for another couple decades. His visual innovation was astounding at time like the one where the panels get longer as the stilts stretch themselves. I just wish McCay had more time to flesh out his stories as well.