Monday, February 29, 2016

Winsor McCay - Joshua Lafond-Favieres

Zenas Winsor McCay was born in Michigan in 1867. Both of his parents were raised in Canada by Scottish immigrants, and they moved to the US in 1866 for employment. From childhood, Winsor was an incessant sketcher. In school he was constantly reprimanded for drawing on the pages of his books, and years later, as a comic artist, voraciousness was a common theme in many of his works.
The Sinking of the Alena. Drawn by Winsor McCay on a school blackboard at age 11, this image was professionally photographed and sold in postcards.
He was only formally enrolled in six years of schooling, but was unofficially taught drawing techniques as a young adult from John Goodison, a drawing professor at Michigan State. Under his instruction, McCay focused on drawing with geometrical forms and linear perspective. The teaching involved no books but only blackboard lessons, and idea connected to Goodison's belief that "the laws of perspective are learned by observation." McCay commented later in life that he was taught to "a cone, a sphere, a cylinder, and a cube." Many critics noted the changes in McCay's work as a result of this training, making note of its heavy emphasis on line, form, and perspective. Goodson eventually encouraged McCay to move to Chicago in 1889.

McCay worked in many different jobs in his adult years. In Chicago he worked as an apprentice at a printing company while living with fellow artist Jules Guérin from whom he learned color and figure-drawing techniques. McCay moved to Cincinnati two years later where he painted signs, posters, and stage sets for a museum and its events. This increased his experience in drawing exotic and varied animal figures, something that would define the fantastic scenes in his later comics. He joined the Cincinnati Enquirer staff and became head of the art department. Here he began drawing and publishing his first comic strips in national journals such as Life, earning him exposure across the country. In 1903 McCay's work was brought to the attention of the New York Herald, and McCay was recruited to move to New York and draw comic strips for the paper.

McCay created many comic strips in his Herald career, including Little Sammy Sneeze, The Life of Hungry Henrietta, A Pilgrim's Progress, and The Dream of the Rarebit Fiend. From the very beginning, McCay experimented with different techniques and perspectives in his comic strips. Little Sammy Sneeze for example employs the actual structure of the strip itself as a tool to illustrate the forcefulness of Sammy's Sneeze.

Little Sammy Sneeze one of McKay's early Herald comic strips shows a sneeze so powerful that it breaks the comic strip altogether.
McCay's most successful strip was Little Nemo in Slumberland, a full-color series running from 1905 to 1914 about a boy who experiences fantastic and often dangerous adventures in an amazing world, only to find himself awake in his bed in the last panel.

The first strip of Little Nemo in Slumberland
The work in this series was known for its detail and imagination. All that McCay had learned including harmony and color contrast, geometric design, and comic strip style came into play to make Nemo a success. McCay varied the sizes and shape of his panels for increased effect, and combined simple areas of flat color with clean line art and intricate details to create a unique and charming style.
A strip of Little Nemo featuring dynamic panels and creative style
This artist is work researching because of his development and application of different skills, especially in an intriguingly impactful field of art such as comic drawing. His work reflected the times and provided a medium for an exploration of and commentary on the culture around him. McCay truly showed that drawing comics can be an important, dynamic, and impactful skill. His style is iconic and the skill he developed throughout life is truly admirable.


Roeder, Katherine. Wide Awake in Slumberland: Fantasy, Mass Culture, and Modernism in the Art of Winsor McCay. Print.

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