As I walk around the Mary Washington campus, it becomes immediately clear that I am not your typical student. I am most decidedly not of the Millennial Generation. In fact, I am from what has been called the MTV Generation, or Generation X. I went to elementary and intermediate school in the 1970s and early 80s, and graduated high school in 1988. During those formative years, I had always favored Marvel over DC comics, in particular the “Uncanny X-Men.” My brother and I actually still own many of the comics that have been turned into the blockbuster movies we enjoy today. Comics such as the Dark Phoenix saga, the Days of Future Past books, and the four book Wolverine miniseries from 1982.
That being said, as a lover of comics and graphic novels, when I started reading Winsor McCay’s “Little Nemo in Slumberland,” in my ENGL 386 Graphic Novel class, I instantly became attached. While we were only supposed to read or follow the Little Nemo storyline through the end of 1907, I decided to push on. However, it is between 1905 and 1907 that I would like to reflect upon, because in my humble opinion, this featured McCay’s best work with Nemo. His artwork was visually groundbreaking and really drew me in. I actually had to keep reminding myself that this was all hand drawn and created in the very earliest part of the 20th Century. The extent of the detail that McCay put into illustrating each of the make believe buildings, cityscapes, creatures, animals, and people that Little Nemo interacted with was, to say the least, extraordinary.
While everyone who is familiar with this comic will agree on its visual beauty, what fascinated me the most was the story it told. The tale of a young boy, who took us along on his quest to meet a beautiful princess through a magical land. Initially, I found the under the frame captioning a nuisance, as the sentences beneath the frames often bleed into one another before the eye caught up with the corresponding artwork. Thankfully, McCay stopped captioning the strip altogether, and let his characters tell the story.
Additionally, as I read each week’s story, I continually became engrossed with Little Nemo’s journey, even though his awakening was inevitable, and expected. I felt disappointment when an unexpected plunge into water or a fall would jar him back to consciousness. I became frustrated with our hero when his fear or his overzealousness would get the better of him. Although, upon reflection, it was these shortcomings that made this fictional character even more real. While he would eventually learn courage, in the beginning, he was a typical little boy, no different from any child of that age today. What child would not go running from a dragon with a wingback sofa set inside its mouth? I am 45 years old, if someone told me to climb in and take a seat; I would utter a few choice words, and then get out of there quick.
Ultimately, the most endearing aspect to me about “Little Nemo in Slumberland,” was the innocence that it portrayed. I felt like I was looking through a window back into a much more uncomplicated time in this country’s history. I loved “Little Nemo in Slumberland” for the nostalgia it instilled in me. It made me pine for the simpler days of my own youth, riding my bicycle up to our neighborhood pool or to a nearby Seven-Eleven to buy the latest X-Men comic with my friends. When kids came home for dinner at the end of the day to the sound of their mom’s voice calling them out the front door, not via a text or phone call to the their cell phone. Sometimes I wish that we could return to a little simpler time, perhaps not as early as McCay’s nineteen aughts, but to a time when father’s would read the Sunday comics to their children or just when we spoke to each other face to face, not through Facebook or Twitter.
Little Nemo in Slumberland – July 22, 1906