Winsor McCay(1867?~1934)

A black and white photograph of a middle-aged man in a suit posing reclined in a chair

Winsor McCay is an American Illustrator and cartoonist who claims who was born in Michigan in 1871 but data and his gravestone says he was born in Ontario, Canada in 1867. Most of his early life is unknown but it is certain that he grew up in the suburbs of Detroit, Michigan. His father was a real estate agent and he also had a younger brother who had a mental illness and was institutionalized. McCay’s father wanted his son to be an entrepreneur so that he can help his younger brother but Winsor defied his father by dropping out of business school. At a young age, McCay’s teachers praised him for his artistic talent and he began his artistic career by sketching quick portraits at a nearby amusement park. An instructor would later taught him about perspective and colour theory. This knowledge and practice would allow McCay to find work in Chicago as poster and advertisement designer. He later found work in Cincinnati, Ohio as a cartoonist and illustrator at various newspapers. McCay went through many different jobs which included working as a cartoonist at the New York Herald which at the time was a coveted position as cartoons were the main attraction of newspapers. The cartoons that McCay drew were Little Sammy Sneeze and Dream of the Rarebit Friend. In 1905, McCay would make his most renown work, “Little Nemo in Slumberland”. The comic is about a young boy named Nemo where his adventures in his dreams are portrayed throughout the comic book. Little Nemo showed McCay’s mastery of depth of field, perspective, composition, use of colour and storytelling. McCay would become one of the first illustrators to use differently shaped panels to help advance the story. Little Nemo helped McCay to become famous name in America. In 1909, McCay started to do Vaudeville theatre by performing an act called “The Seven Ages of Man” where he would speed draw babies and the growth from childhood to adolescence to old age. Theatre would then inspire McCay to do film and animation. In 1914, McCay produced an animated film called “Gertie the Dinosaur”. Although primitive by today’s standards, it was well received by audiences and critics and would have a big impact on animation including Walt Disney. The film was composed of more than 10,000 drawings and would set the standard for various animation techniques. Although McCay wanted to continue working on animation, his employer compelled him to focus on newspaper cartoon instead. Thus, McCay wouldn’t work on another animation until several years later. McCay would continue to do newspaper cartoons and illustrations until his death in 1934.

McCay’s art style is known for his detailed use of cross-hatching and perspective as well as his ability to draw fast and accurately. McCay was inspired by the Art Nouveau movement that was happening during that time and had a taste for ornaments thanks to his interest in carnivals. He had very precise way of doing line work and worked with different mediums such as gouache, various Venus pencils, art gum, T-squares, etc. I overall enjoy looking at McCay’s work. His illustrations in his comics are timeless thanks to to his simple, colourful, and joyful art style that help make the story enjoyable for all ages. Even some of his black and white illustrations are amazing to look at because of how much detail and precision that he uses, which shows just how much skill he has.

Six panels from Little Nemo comic strip. Nemo dreams his bed grows legs and walks through the city.
Nemo’s bad takes a walk, Little Nemo(1908)
Political cartoon by Winsor McCay
His Best Customer(1917)
Little Sammy Sneeze by Winsor McCay
Little Sammy Sneeze(1904)
Winsor McCay— Daniel and the Lions Illustration Comic Art
Daniel and the Lions(date unknown)
Winsor McCay early 1930s Editorial Cartoon Comic Art
Early 1930s editorial cartoon

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