Day #21: Little Nemo and his First Nemesis: Flip!

"Little Nemo in Slumberland" dated March 04, 1906:

Transcript of Tweets by @LittleNemo1905 (June 17, 2020):

Picking up exactly where McCay left off the week prior, Nemo's "rare patience" is rewarded with the opening of the gates! - 1/24

This strip marks the first time that Nemo has "set eyes and feet inside of the walls of" the Slumberland palace and the strip is brimming with the hopeful anticipation that THIS is the day Nemo meets the Princess. - 2/24

The brilliant cliff-hanger of the last strip really amps up this energy and I felt, coming in, a really affective buzz of excitement. Admittedly, this didn't all have to do with the narrative conceit… - 3/24

One of my favourite #LittleNemo characters, the trouble-making trickster villain/anti-hero, Flip, is finally introduced here! Though, admittedly, Flip is not without his problems. - 4/24

For starters, his representation/characterization is largely founded upon ethnic stereotyping about the Irish that was common in the 1800s and early 1900s. - 5/24

In a 2008 entry for #SociologicalImages, Dr. Gwen Sharp notes that "in many cases the same negative characteristics attributed to Africans and African Americans (sloth, immorality, destructiveness) were often also associated with the Irish." - 6/24

Indeed, Bukatman (2012) also notes that Flip's entry into Slumberland marked "the disobedient and undisciplined…in McCay's controlled universe" (p. 44). - 7/24

These sentiments were felt strongly in America at the time, as evidenced by this #PoliticalCartoon from the early 1880s, called "Uncle Sam's Lodging House", in which Uncle Sam chastises the Irish immigrant on his way to America for being the only disruptive traveller of the entire bunch: [INSERT IMAGE] - 8/24

Dr. Sharp very nicely summarizes the impact of the strip when she says, "the message is, of course, that other immigrant groups (including Blacks) settle in and don’t cause problems, while the Irish don’t know how to assimilate or stay in their place." - 9/24

Of course, this describes Flip perfectly. Not only is he defined from this very first strip as a troublemaker/trickster/villain, but it is also clear (through the captions) that he has aspirations above his station. - 10/24

As captions 8-9 make clear, "[Flip] believed the princess would fall in love with him once she should see him, when the truth was the sight of him with his big cigar and his impudent face was shockingly frightful." - 11/24

So, in the way of traditionally Irish stereotyped characters, Flip neither settles in/assimilates or wishes to stay in his place. His antics form the primary thrust of the next grouping of strips. - 12/24

Yet, McCay's journals don't suggest a *personal* prejudice against the Irish; far from it, they actually promote the idea that he thought very highly of them. - 13/24

“There’s no race…that can write lyric poetry that sings except the Irish…And Yeats has poured genius into the Irish Sea until now its flood-level waters threaten to engulf the birthplace of Shakespeare with every wave…" (McCay's journal qtd. in Canemaker, 2018/1987) - 14/24

It's true that these comments, written around Christmastime 1928, may represent a much different position than the one held by a 22-years younger man, but this type of admiration seems deep-rooted. - 15/24

The use of these Irish stereotypes in Flip's creation could be chalked up simply to their suitability for the type of character McCay wanted. Maybe he was imbued with these features only to connect him to something "real" that his readers could recognize? - 16/24

Today, we tend to forget that the Irish of yesteryears faced significant ethnic prejudice because it has, largely, been forgotten today (something that we cannot, unfortunately, say about racial prejudice…), but it was quite common then. - 17/24

Regardless though, the prejudices are an undeniable part of his character. Though I'd certainly suggest that these become less pronounced later on in the strip when he becomes more of a companion to Nemo and Impie comes onto the scene. - 18/24

Flip's internal dichotomies are why I find him so incredibly fascinating… he straddles a line between good and bad, hero and villain, friend and nemesis, insider and outsider throughout the life of the strip and always keeps you guessing. - 19/24

Our introduction to him as a "brazen brat" trying to wake Nemo up with his outlandishly large "WAKE UP" hat (killing the affective excitement we felt coming into the strip) is a subversion that not only works now, but will pay dividends for many strips to come! - 20/24

Beyond Flip, there are some other neat things happening here. In particular, I love how the background characters all know of Flip's plan to wake-up Nemo, but no one stops him. It's almost as if his anarchism is silently accepted by the denizen's of the kingdom. - 21/24

I recognize that Flip's position as nephew to the Dawn problematizes punishing him, but they could certainly do something to keep him away from Nemo… Slumberlandians, it seems, don't like to directly address the problem. - 22/24

Finally, the architecture and surreality of the page are brilliant. I love the zebras and the banners (each with a letter of Nemo's name), even his strange scaly armour is so weird, yet wonderful. It's a nice first glimpse into what Slumberland has to offer! - 23/24

This is my reading of "Little Nemo in Slumberland" #21. What's yours? - 24/24