Day #18: Little Nemo and his Cardboard Valentine

"Little Nemo in Slumberland" dated February 11, 1906:


Transcript of Tweets by @LittleNemo1905 (June 14, 2020):


Love is in the air for Nemo today as we celebrate Valentine's Day 1906. Another mythical holiday character, Cupid, makes an appearance here and takes on a much more active role in the narrative than Santa Claus did. - 1/25

I'm really interested to hear how others read this strip… I'm not sure if I really have a great handle on it. There is quite a bit to talk about though. - 2/25

For starters, the title card is diegetic. This is reminiscent of strip #14 (Jan. 14, 1906), but in this case the material is actually being interacted with by Slumberlandian characters. - 3/25

Whether the text itself is diegetic isn't clear, but the containers (hearts) that hold the text clearly are. If the text too is diegetic, I like the implication about performativity (something McCay was intimately familiar with from his work in Vaudeville). - 4/25

Cupid's helpers seem like stage hands, preparing or setting up for the show. The idea that they are setting up the Valentine's Card that Nemo will eventually enter speaks to the curation or decoration that goes into preparing for Nemo's arrival. - 5/25

That the experience Nemo is given by Cupid seems to mirror one's potential experience at a Dime Museum (like Detroit's #WonderlandAndEdenMusee; a favourite haunt of the young McCay) is interesting. - 6/25

Canemaker (2018/1987) says of Wonderland that it "combined aspects of vaudeville, funhouses, and circus midway freak shows under one roof" (35). - 7/25

This strip seems very much influenced by this and McCay's more performative side. The Valentines Card entry screams funhouse, the cardboard valentines continue to inform the vaudeville angle, and the "Chamber of Horrors" is influenced by midway curiosities. - 8/25

Panel 6 (captioned 5) is interesting to see here, in this strip, primarily because of the intense images of body horror that are presented: tiny heads, elongated necks, gigantic mouths, disproportioned bodies, etc. - 9/25

Cupid's performance has intentionally (… well, supposedly accidentally, but I don't buy it) brought Nemo through this room before meeting his "valentine". Nemo protests and says that he is tired of looking at people (like this) whom he sees pass his house every day. - 10/25

Another link to "Freudian dream material" here speaks to the belief that all of the faces used for people in our dreams are those we've seen in the waking world, but haven't really remembered. - 11/25

Could it be that the faces of the people in the "Chamber of Horrors" are those of waking world people? Their dramatic and imperfect representations plays nicely against the "dream girls" in the following room. - 12/25

I see a worthwhile juxtaposition between the real waking world (where perfection and beauty are unattainable) and the surreal dreamworld (where your flawless dream boy/girl can exist) in this comparison that I find fascinating. - 13/25

Most importantly, is the fact that this false dichotomy is pulled out from underneath us by the end of the strip. - 14/25

A dream is just a dream, and you cannot bring your dream boy/girl with you when you wake. That Nemo mentions he hopes to introduce his new perfect valentine to his Mama and Papa someday seems to trigger the revelation that she is a falsehood. - 15/25

That her perfection is revealed to be untrue thus brings into question the imperfection of the "Chamber of Horrors"/waking world characters. I read a beautiful (albeit cliched) Valentine's day sentiment out of this. - 16/25

Beauty is not about the outside, but the inside. Those "unwanted valentines" in panel 6 (captioned 5), who Nemo (and maybe even the reader) rejected on sight, may have been lovely people, but Nemo's cardboard valentine, pretty on the outside, has nothing else to offer. - 17/25

This commentary recalls our previous conversation about Magoozla and Cheecaumo (physical appearance as primary indicator for Nemo's trust) and seems to be a recurring reading for me… - 18/25

Lastly, I want to mention the materialistic commentary that seems to run through the strip. - 19/25

Nemo enters into Wooland by physically climbing through material valentines day cards; possessions that we pass from us to another in order to demonstrate our fondness for the that person. - 20/25

That Nemo is climbing into them might indicate that he has left a bit of himself in each card? - 21/25

That we shift from this benign connection/commentary on materiality to the uncomfortable one about possession and transferability in relation to the cardboard dream girls happens quickly. - 22/25

Even though the falseness of the dream girls fits well with the commentary above, it makes a statement about the girls' position to Nemo (and girls/women's position to boys/men, more generally). - 23/25

These cardboard valentines are not meant to last; they are temporary, at which point they are to be thrown away. This suggestion of an ephemeral relationship (or worse, the girl herself) sours the final moment a bit for me. - 24/25

This is my reading of "Little Nemo in Slumberland" #18. What's yours? - 25/25