From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Winsor McCay (c. 1869 – 1934) was an American cartoonist and animator. He is best known for the comic strip Little Nemo (1905–1914; 1924–1926) and the animated film Gertie the Dinosaur (1914). For contractual reasons, he worked under the pen name Silas on the comic strip Dream of the Rarebit Fiend.
His comic strip work has influenced generations of artists, including creators such as Moebius, Chris Ware and Maurice Sendak. His early animated films far outshone the work of his contemporaries, and set the model to be followed by Walt Disney and others. His two best-known creations are the newspaper comic strip Little Nemo in Slumberland, which ran from 1905 to 1914, and the animated cartoon Gertie the Dinosaur, which he created in 1914.
From a young age, McCay was a quick, prolific, and technically dextrous artist. He started his professional career making posters and performing for dime museums, and began illustrating newspapers and magazines in 1898. He joined the New York Herald in 1903, where he created popular comic strips such as Little Sammy Sneeze and Dream of the Rarebit Fiend. In 1905, his signature strip Little Nemo in Slumberland debuted, a fantasy strip in an Art Nouveau style, about a young boy and his adventurous dreams. The strip demonstrated McCay's strong graphic sense and mastery of color and linear perspective. McCay experimented with the formal elements of the comic strip page, arranging and sizing panels to increase impact and enhance elements of the narrative. McCay also produced numerous detailed editorial cartoons and was a popular performer of chalk talks on the vaudeville circuit.
McCay was an early animation pioneer. Between 1911 and 1921 McCay self-financed and animated ten films, some of which survive only as fragments. The first three served as part of his vaudeville act, Gertie the Dinosaur, an interactive routine in which McCay appeared to give orders to a trained dinosaur. McCay and his assistants worked for twenty-two months on his most ambitious film, The Sinking of the Lusitania (1918), a patriotic recreation of the German torpedoing in 1915 of the RMS Lusitania. Lusitania was not as commercially successful as the earlier films, and McCay's later movies attracted little attention. His animation, vaudeville, and comic strip work was gradually curtailed as newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, his employer since 1911, expected McCay to devote his energies to editorial illustrations.
In his drawing, McCay made bold, prodigious use of linear perspective, particularly in detailed architecture and cityscapes. He textured his editorial cartoons with fine hatching, and made color a central element in Little Nemo. His comic strip work has influenced generations of cartoonists and illustrators. The technical level of McCay's animation—its naturalism, smoothness, and scale—was unmatched until Walt Disney's feature films arrived in the 1930s. He pioneered inbetweening, the use of registration marks, cycling, and other animation techniques that later became standard.