Day #24: Little Nemo and the Guards of the Second Gate

"Little Nemo in Slumberland" dated March 25, 1906:


Transcript of Tweets by @LittleNemo1905 (June 20, 2020):


This strip feels alive in a really interesting way. There's a vitality about it that really works to it's advantage because of the affective duality it presents. - 1/24

By this I mean that there are two opposing forces at work within the strip: rapid forward progression (Nemo), and lackadaisical progression (Flip). - 2/24

The strips' consistent alteration between these two feelings/characters demonstrates that they are (at least right now) narrative foils for one another and about as opposite as two characters could be. - 3/24

Tier two, the long-horizontal panel featuring Nemo's carriage on the move has a feeling of intensely encoded gesture/movement… part of this is because we read left to right and, as we do so, we subconsciously propel the carriage forward… - 4/24

…but the representation of the camels in motion and their riders mid-whip, combined with the linguistic (both synoptic in tier one and through the speech balloons) encourage this feeling of forward motion. - 5/24

These are contrasted by the panels featuring Flip which have a very calm sensation to them. He and his two goose carriage are not rushing nearly as fast as Nemo's 6+ camel carriage and yet he has time to stop, grab some fudge, and lay a trap. - 6/24

There's no sense of urgency to Flip or his panels in the third tier. He just simply and lackadaisically plants the fudge right in the middle of the road to trip up the camels. - 7/24

Now, had McCay simply moved from the trap to the crash, I don't think the following moment would have worked as well. We'd have gone from speed to calm to crash… a macro-deceleration, sure, but not the shocking impact we get here. - 8/24

Instead, he uses the final panel of the third tier to remind us of the speed with which the camel carriage is moving… We see only the lead camels midstride before moving to the fourth tier and witnessing the glorious mass of tangled animals and riders. - 9/24

As the feet of all the character high up to the sky indicate, they've all fallen head first towards the ground. Even their gestural position indicates the abruptness of the crash… they are a unified motion collaboratively demonstrating the sudden stop. - 10/24

In the next panel, Flip just lazily walks through the second gate (presumably, gaining entry because of the costume he wears) while Nemo and the others don't make it before the gate closes because they've had their speed taken away. - 11/24

This moment is a good example of how the synoptic content has lead to McCay's overreliance on the linguistic to fill in gaps that he doesn't depict. Without the top tier summary, we wouldn't be able to tell that the gates have "closed for the night". - 12/24

Certainly, we'd be able to share in the shock and confusion of the moment (which is expertly displayed by the guards body language/gesture), but we wouldn't understand why they don't just let him through now that he's arrived so they can continue their journey. - 13/24

It is also, presumably, a large temporal jump from the panel labeled 6 to 7, yet we go from Flip entering freely to Nemo being shut out. - 14/24

This is a moment where McCay might have wanted to include a panel or two of Nemo's now-walking carriage slog towards the gates… it would have provided some temporal clarity and another interesting element of gestural communication. - 15/24

The Guards of the Second Gate are also curious. Their introduction in the top tier is reminiscent of a class yearbook or graduation photo… they sit in identical poses waiting for the next person to arrive at the gates. - 16/24

That this person isn't just *anyone* but the Princesses intended playmate should make them that much more cautious… and yet Flip manages to enter just by "confirming" that he's Nemo. - 17/24

That he comes to the gate, alone, in a carriage of geese doesn't strike anyone, the least bit, as being a little off… which is partially what makes the penultimate panel work. - 18/24

It's a wonderful juxtaposition against the first tier… Order, structure, confidence, determinism against disorder, frustration, embarrassment and failure. Their bodies literally imitate the narrative situation and punctuate the conceptual duality that the strip embodies. - 19/24

Of note is also the return of racial caricature; the camel riders are all stereotypical black caricatures. Garbed in exotic uniforms and riding exotic animals, their inclusion is reminiscent of strip #14 (Jan. 14, 1906) and the elephant's rider. - 20/24 [INSERT IMAGE]

This pattern of "animal riders", who wear identical uniforms, but are only visible in the dreamscape when in direct association with animals is very problematic... - 21/24

…because it perpetuates the hurtful post-emancipation stereotype of the animalistic/bestial black person who is incapable of assimilation into civilized society, but fits in perfectly well with animals. - 22/24

Again, while I recognize that these were common depictions at the time and accurately depict the socio-historical moment during which McCay was writing, I also feel that we must challenge and problematize them openly. - 23/24

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