Day #112: Little Nemo Finally Eats... the Comic?!

"Little Nemo in Slumberland" dated December 01, 1907:


Transcript of Tweets by @LittleNemo1905 (SEPTEMBER 16, 2020):


There are a handful of #LittleNemo strips that are so iconic, that many people know them even if they can't say what they are, where they're from, or know any of the characters. This is one of those strips. - 1/34

I love so many strips in the #LittleNemo series, but I don't think I love any of them as much as I love this one (EVEN the walking beds…). It's a wonderful metafictional moment that is both hilarious and experimentally innovative. - 2/34

The gist of the strip? The boys have now reached the apex of their hunger and, being unable to wait any longer to eat, have decided to rip apart the comic and consume it. - 3/34

So, before I talk about the metanarrative, I want to ask: what prompts this moment? How do the boys become conscious that they are, in fact, fictional cartoon characters? … Have they always been conscious of it? - 4/34

These questions are really interesting, but they're really nothing but unanswerable diversions to be honest; we won't get the answer and, since this is a dream, the rules go out the window anyway! - 5/34

While much of McCay's experimentation to this point has been formally innovative and focused on using the spatial construction to compliment the visuals in a really wonderful and multimodal way, there haven't been, that I can recall, any meta-moments. - 6/34

In literature, for those wondering, metafiction, metanarratives, etc. describe a self-conscious reflection on the part of the text; it recognizes itself as a text, or a character recognizes themselves as fiction. This is the case here. - 7/34

One of McCay's other most famous examples of this metafiction occurred in an episode of Nemo's precursor, #LittleSammySneeze. This series was about a young boy whose sneezes always ruined something or other by the end of the strip. - 8/34

Take a look at this example, probably the most famous #LittleSammySneeze on September 24, 1905: - 9/34 [INSERT IMAGE]

Katherine Roeder's (2014) #WideAwakeInSlumberland book has a fantastic breakdown of this image and how it establishes the context/relationship between viewer and the text: - 10/34 [INSERT IMAGE]

What stands out to me the most in Roeder's discussion is her acknowledgement that, for this gag to really work, the audience must be prepared for it; they must recognize and understand the formal conventions that define the medium. - 11/34

We've chatted about this before, but now this really kicks into gear. I sometimes wonder if the earlier, really innovative strips, were "too much, too soon" which is why he returned to a more formally stable strip for a short while. - 12/34

Now, the time is right for McCay to really begin to push and challenge his formal chops… and this strip sort of acts as our initiation into the renaissance of formal experimentation that we'll soon be apart of. - 13/34

Ok, so let's get back to the strip. In panel 2, Flip has become so hungry that decides to grab one of the panel frames and knock down the paratext ("supplement") of the comics title to eat. - 14/34

One panel later, Impie decides to follow Flip's lead and rips up part of the frame in order to knock down the title. All the while, Flip and Nemo complain about McCay and his choice not to feed them; according to Flip, the destruction of his drawing is well-deserved. - 15/34

Notice how Nemo is *never* complicit in the destruction of the comics form; he simply stands by passively and reaps the rewards. He eats as much as the others, but he causes no destruction. - 16/34

I wonder if this has something to do with "dream logic"? It would, in a sense, a form of "self-destruction", no? Maybe it would cause him to wake up from the dream? - 17/34

As the boys consume the letters that they have successfully knocked down from above their heads, it becomes apparent that, at least in this strip, the text (and frame for that matter) has become diegetic (visible to the characters within the text; apart of the storyworld). - 18/34

More often than not, we've seen the title card bridge or cover the gutter, signalling that it existed outside of the diegetic panel content and thereby not visible to the characters. - 19/34 [INSERT IMAGE]

Here though, McCay consciously chooses to split the "in" so that the title card fits squarely within, rather than bridge, both panels. - 20/34 [INSERT IMAGE]

So, one possibility, is that the characters have become self-aware of their existence as cartoons because of their unnatural hunger, thus revealing the often invisible formal structure of the comic to them for their manipulation. - 21/34

But, if we recall in the previous example of #LittleSammySneeze, when his sternutation causes the entire frame to fall apart, it looks as though Sammy has shattered a glass… - 22/34

By contrast, there is no glass within the panels of Slumberland. We know this because Flip and Impie both tug the frame up from the panel with no impediment. It's far more reminiscent of a stage in this sense than it is a window or screen. - 23/34

In her book, Roeder (2014) draws a connection between comics and Vaudeville and with this, I see another. Not only did they share physical and gag comedy, but they shared McCay's heart; how perfect then that this strip be a type of meta-Vaudeville show! - 24/34

This connection solidifies the question of diegetic paratext (the title card) for me. If we view the comic as a type of theatre performance, complete with panels-as-stage, then the paratext makes perfect sense as diegetic because it's likely hanging from the "rafters". - 25/34

Paratextual theorist, Gerard Genette (1987), believed that paratext (the material that surrounded the primary text) was a "threshold of interpretation". In other words, the paratext could be understood as a guide or entry point into the text for the reader. - 26/34

Genette believed that there was no way for a reader to access a text without first accessing it's paratext. In many ways, you can see how this is true; the saying "don't judge a book by it's cover" is proof enough of that. - 27/34

So, what does it say then if our trio are destroying the paratext? The entry point for the reader *into* Slumberland? Are we, the reader, to be punished because McCay didn't feed his characters? - 28/34

Like Roeder, I feel like this creates an almost Brechtian affect. I, the reader, am becoming alienated from the comic because I no longer have a foothold in it… the rules that I thought I knew to be true just simply… aren't. - 29/34

How soon before they turn their attention to their own word balloons? How then will the reader understand their communication? … Thankfully, McCay stops this before it gets too out of hand. - 30/34

Almost like a God punishing his creations for their indiscretion, McCay has the paratextual feeding frenzy halt because the characters have bloated to a large size. They're humorously large and ballooned bodies (vaudeville physical comedy?) causes them to stop eating. - 31/34

I couldn't help but remember Willy Wonka in these moments... The scene where little Violet Beauregarde breaks the rules and eats the forbidden chewing gum, which causes a reaction that… well… you know. - 32/34 [INSERT IMAGE]

There is so much more to this strip than I've ever scratched the surface of here and I'm sure that you've all got your own fascinating readings. I really can't wait to hear them! - 33/34

This is my reading of "Little Nemo in Slumberland" #112. What's yours? - 34/34

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