Day #19: Little Nemo and the Washington's Candied Cherries

"Little Nemo in Slumberland" dated February 18, 1906:


Transcript of Tweets by @LittleNemo1905 (June 15, 2020):


Before we talk about the strip, I want to be completely transparent about how I read this strip. Please remember that I am a Canadian and don't guffaw too loudly… - 1/29

So, when I first read this one, I had absolutely, positively, no idea what was going on. I couldn't for the life of me figure it out… candied cherries? Two George Washingtons? It felt too weird. I knew I was missing something. - 2/29

Since this strip clearly revolves around Washington's birthday (the top tier Slumberland clowns have a page declaring it) and I wasn't familiar with an American Holiday called "Washington's Day", I looked it up. - 3/29

Now, of course I've heard of #PresidentsDay, but I didn't know it was celebrated on Washington's birthday! That was very new to this Canucklehead… but things were falling into place. - 4/29

So, then I got to thinking about what I already knew about Washington… I knew he couldn't tell a lie… I knew the myth about his teeth being made of wood… but, beyond that, all I knew was that he was the first President. - 5/29

So, I did more digging because the candied cherry tree thing just still didn't make sense to me. Low and behold, I stumbled (accidentally) upon the myth of George Washington and the cherry tree: https://www.mountvernon.org/library/digitalhistory/digital-encyclopedia/article/cherry-tree-myth/ - 6/29

Now I understood that this strip was a complete retelling of the (probably untrue?) story that first appeared in Mason Locke Weems' biography of the man, "The Life of Washington"! - 7/29

Primed with this knowledge, the subversions became delightful! If you're unfamiliar with the tale, you can read the short blurb in the link above for some context. - 8/29

For starters, there is some really cool dissonance happening for Nemo between the surreality of the dream and his consciousness. He is seeing with his own eyes the little boy, but also knows he will become "the future father of our country." - 9/29

At some level, Nemo must know that he is in the dreamworld, and that Georgie Washington is a dream, even if he doesn't outwardly recognize it. - 10/29

But there are, of course, signs. The alteration of the myth's original normal cherry tree to a "candied" cherry tree, for one, further signifies the absurdity/surreality of the dreamed event. - 11/29

The best narrative element of this strip is the final tier, though! In the original myth, Augustine Washington is elated and proud of his son's honesty and thus forgives him. - 12/29

Here, Georgie still tells the truth, but because it was in fact our #LittleNemo that cut down the tree, Augustine becomes frustrated and chases him away (ultimately causing his awakening)! - 13/29

For those who know the myth this is quite funny. The first time I read it, I didn't think much of it at all. The second time, armed with more knowledge of American myth, I found it quiet funny! - 14/29

The spatial design of this page is also quite wonderful. The irregular grid pattern coupled with the irregular panels creates so many fascinating moments. - 15/29

In particular, I really like how this strip demonstrates the development of McCay's experimentation with layout and reading order. - 16/29

We've discussed before how he, occasionally, expected readers to follow strange (for us) reading patterns based on the inclusion of the caption numbers. Here, we have two examples of how that's evolved. - 17/29

In this example, McCay's reading pattern is exactly what a modern-era replica of this layout design would call for and would expect readers to recognize without the numbered guidance. - 18/29 [INSERT IMAGE]

These three panels form a textbook #blockage and McCay's reading pattern suggests exactly the type of reading that a blockage pattern used today would require. - 19/29 [INSERT IMAGE]

For me, this speaks to McCay's formalistic brilliance. In a few short strips, we've seen him experiment with, identify, and incorporate ways to improve his spatial communication for the purpose of storytelling. This is hands down one of my favourite things about his work. - 20/29

Finally, the Slumberlandian's in tier one are… peculiar. There are nine of them, eight of whom are shouting, "We have a scheme". - 21/29

How should we read this tier? I love panels like this because they represent a spatio-temporal dissonance within the iconic representation. - 22/29

It's *generally* accepted that a single panel represents pictorial content occurring within a single moment in time. Yet the spatial mode (and natural reading) would suggest that there is a temporal progression as you move from left to right. - 23/29

So there are two ways to read this strip then: 1) All the clowns are yelling, simultaneously "We have a scheme" (temporal reading), or that b) Each clown is making their statement in succession (spatial reading). - 24/29

It's a subtle change, but a change none the less. My first instinct, as I think would be for most readers, is to accept the spatial reading. But, I like the temporal reading better… it makes the clowns seem to strike a quasi-victory pose. - 25/29

But even beyond the formal consideration, the clowns are interesting because they have no actual presence in the strip; confined by the stylized frame of the horizontal top tier's panel. So what was their role? - 26/29

Did they *send* Georgie? Did they *make* George? Are they somehow capable of pulling waking world "material" from Nemo's head to use in his dreamworld? What power do these Slumberlandians have? - 27/29

This is reminiscent of strip #17 (Feb. 04, 1906)'s gnomes… Clearly, these characters have influence over the world they are a part of (the dreamscape/Slumberland) but McCay hasn't (and maybe won't) clarify exactly what that is. - 28/29

This is my reading of "Little Nemo in Slumberland" #19. What's yours? - 29/29