Dreaming our way into the weekend.

*New column up, slightly longer than usual and a bit more dense. It’s centered on the ways in which many comics-saturated US readers perceive manga, prompted by some considerations that went into my participation in the Comic Bloggers’ Poll 2005 (still open for voting until midnight EST on January 15). What are ‘reprints,’ when there’s different considerations that go into different releases? Should language be redefined to fit our classification struggles? Also featuring concerns brought up on a recent thread at The Engine. For the record, the manga I make reference to in the first paragraph is Dark Horse’s The Legend of Mother Sarah by Katsuhiro Otomo and Takumi Nagayasu, which spanned three miniseries from 1995-1998, only the first of which was compiled into trade form (The Legend of Mother Sarah: Tunnel Town), apparently leaving four tankoubon worth of Japanese material untranslated. I did manage to find those issues I was looking for in another store, by the way.

*And jumping off of some of the stuff mentioned in my column -

Daydreams and Nightmares: The Fantastic Visions of Winsor McCay

Ok. I’ll get this out of the way right up front. Have you been following Checker’s ongoing Winsor McCay Early Works trade series (currently up to Volume VI)? If so, you’ve already seen quite a good deal of the material presented here. Upon examination of my review of Volume V of the series over at Comic Book Galaxy I see that the DOPE cartoon I mention, all three of the anti-imperialism pieces I cite, plus all of the ‘historical figures in modern times’ paintings I describe are included in this book as well. So are examples of some of the odder strip titles I point out (And Then --- Kerchoo! --- He Sneezed!, The Dream of a Lobster Fiend/Dreams of a Lobster Fiend, It Was Only a Dream), as well as various episodes of popular strips (A Pilgrim’s Progress, Little Sammy Sneeze, and Dream of the Rarebit Fiend are all here) that I can recognize from appearing in the Checker series.

This isn’t Fantagraphics’ fault - actually, they got there first, since this tome is actually a reprint of a book originally released in 1988, collecting McCay material from all of the non-Little Nemo in Slumberland corners of his life’s prodigious output. They certainly do a better job on the editorial side of things - cartoons dated ‘99 actually appear in sections claiming to cover that time period, we’re given a much clearer timeline for McCay’s different modes of work, the occasional footnote clears up some potentially confusing bits regarded the pen-names used, and we receive a bit of context for some of those mystifying illustration pieces (editor Richard Marschall even positions McCay’s architectural approach as part of a soon-to-end historical tradition of touring panoramic historical/futurist artistic presentations).

But more importantly, Fantagraphics’ book is a triumph of presentation, landscape-wide in dimension, and perfect for large presentations of works intended to be seen at a formidable size. While Checker’s Rarebit Fiend strips often seem scrunched into the standard trade format (even when you print them sideways, as Checker sometimes does), this book allows them to breathe. They’re easier to read, and the illustration samples are easier to appreciate. One early magazine illustration presented here (depicting an escape from an Indian attack) was quite difficult for me to understand in its prior Checker printing - McCay works with some rather small details that are easily lost in a reduced size, and only through this new book is simple comprehension possible. Fantagraphics also works with much clearer materials (note that I’m not saying they’re always perfect - despite any variance in quality, though, there’s never genuine difficulty in reading dialogue as there occasionally is in the Checker series), though they obviously can’t match the depth of a six-book series in a single 176-page volume. You’ll get a nice sample of McCay’s many modes here - the six chapters cover early illustrations from magazines and newspapers, miscellaneous early strips, Rarebit Fiend and Sammy Sneeze (the latter still in b&w though) showcases, and editorial cartoons. There’s also a pair of prose items by McCay - an essay titled From Sketchbook to Animation which acts as a very short career self-summary, and a letter written by McCay (to one Clare Briggs) in which he details what is necessary to be a cartoonist:

You should never be satisfied. Always try to do better. Aunt Emma says it’s the best she ever saw; Uncle John agrees with Mom and Pop that you are wonderful. Smile and thank them - that’s all, but don’t believe them. There is a cruel editor to come later and slam you, but continue on, if it is in you - if it is not, quit and get a real job. Work! WORK! That’s all there is to cartooning.”

McCay’s own words are valuable here, especially in reference to the sheer scope of his massive career. Not very much of that career can be contained in a single book. And indeed, this particular book has been largely contained in other books, wider-ranging series. Ah, but you can’t beat the lavish presentation given the material here. Even those (like me) who’ve seen this stuff might want to look into it. But for McCay neophytes who’re ready to venture beyond Slumberland (or maybe save it for later), this is a truly excellent introduction. And at only $24.95 for such a deluxe package, it’s maybe the most attractive McCay deal in town too.