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The Philodoxer
Thoughts on writing and publishing, and the various sources of entertainment...
A weekly column by Abel G. Peña, best known for his Star Wars work.

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THE PHILODOXER for 06/11/2006
No One's Dreams: Little Nemo in Slumberland


It's the one word that does justice to the comic Little Nemo in Slumberland. Originally published in the New York Herald in the early 1900s, the strip revolves around the vivid and fantastical dreams of a little boy named Nemo (which literally translates from Latin as "No One"). A tour-de-force of the unconscious, its creator Winsor McCay lovingly recreates the bizarre and enchanting world we have seen hundreds of times in our most submissive and unguarded mental explorations. As Nemo doggedly quests to reach Slumberland, the paradisiacal kingdom of the subliminal realm, in his unabashed and instinctual desire for its princess, he travels to such astonishing places as the Cave of Glass, the deep sea, and the North Pole, and chums it up with characters like Father Time, Cupid, and the Candy Kid.

Little Nemo in Slumberland

While the overtone of the strip is total in its embrace of wonderment and its beauties, there is a constant, secret, subversive threat: the niggling fear that the wonderment will end. Danger looms over every panel as the strip subtly climaxes toward the horror of awakening.

This feeling is strongest in the earliest Little Nemo stories from 1905, collected in The Complete Little Nemo in Slumberland Vol. 1. These are my favorites of the strip. Self-contained, they follow Nemo in his early mission to arrive at Slumberland. These stories brim with tension, since we don't know whether Nemo will ever attain the object of his desire. Little Nemo lost a great deal of its punch once McCay decided to actually have Nemo arrive at Slumberland, forcing the comic into a clunky form of long term sequential narrative (For gimmick's sake, Nemo still has to "wake up" at the end of each strip).

But, and I won't say this often, the decline in storytelling is almost a moot point. Because the real and insatiable draw to these strips is the art. That is what's truly magical about Little Nemo. McCay's charming, simple style is like music: a glance alone is enough to penetrate the mystical and dread centers of our minds in an immediate and unapologetic consummation.

-- Abel

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