Day #7: Little Nemo and the Giant Turkey

"Little Nemo in Slumberland" dated November 26, 1905.

Transcript of Tweets by @LittleNemo1905 (June 3, 2020):

Today, we celebrate Thanksgiving 1905! This ode to #TurkeyDay was published the Sunday before the holiday that year (November 30, 1905). Admittedly, this is one of my absolute favourite early #LittleNemo strips! - 1/26

How our little dreamer was able to enjoy Thanksgiving feast with his family after this nightmare/dream, I simply can't guess! That said, it provides us with one of the most mesmerizing strips to date. - 2/26

This is the most formally innovative strips that we've seen so far! If readers thought strips #2 and #3 were experimental, this one must have been a real doozy at the time. So, let's start with where our eyes are immediately drawn… - 3/26

In a massive circular panel, centered on the page, a giant turkey is eating Nemo's house. I absolutely love the not-so-subtle implication that this turkey is going to devour Nemo's family before they devour him in four short days… - 4/26

Another semi-monstrous denizen of Slumberland, the (again) triptyched top tier depicts a messenger asking the turkey to bring Nemo to Slumberland. Reminiscent of Magoozla is the turkey's sly, but endearing, grin! - 5/26

I love how this strip seamlessly blends Nemo's reality with his dream/surreality. There is some deceptive inception occurring almost immediately as his waking-world is simulated within his dreamscape. - 6/26

A reader can be forgiven for not realizing that Nemo is asleep as the strip starts. Not only does the conversation with the Messenger and turkey occur in a seemingly innocuous location (as opposed to in Slumberland)… - 7/26

…but it also opens with Nemo's mother running into his room! So far, only Slumberlandians have woken Nemo to begin his journey. Of course, to borrow a Baudrillardian term, this is only a simulacra Mother; "real" in the dream, but only a copy of his living-breathing mother. - 8/26

That she is followed by a simulacra father is unsurprising. These characters, though representative of his waking-life parents, are only elements of his dream and could be a means to pacify him as he endures this not-so-comfortable trip to Slumberland. - 9/26

But, we're also asked to recognize the house as Nemo's tie to the real world. Sure, as mentioned, the majority of the strip presents a simulation of his waking-world and the events as having occurred within it, but as soon as Nemo falls from the window, everything changes. - 10/26

We immediately enter into a surreal, Thanksgiving world filled with cranberry sauce oceans and celery stalk trees. - 11/26

I won't lie, my immediate thought was that we had stumbled into the Holiday forest and been sucked into Thanksgivingtown the same way that Jack Skellington was when he opened the door to Christmastown in "The Nightmare Before Christmas"! - 12/26

But, in spite of all of the fun to be had in this strip (fun for the reader, anyway… maybe not so much for Nemo), the most memorable part of this page, for me, remains it's spatial design/page layout. - 13/26

Of this layout rhetoric, McCay's most prominent biographer, John Canemaker, says: "[his]imaginative use of the page space and his free alterations of the layouts to complement the action add to the jolts of visual pleasure…" (115). - 14/26

There simply couldn't have been a better layout for this page… the central circle draws the readers attention to both the pivotal narrative moment where Nemo's house is devoured AND the instigation of the transition from real-world simulation into dreamscape surrealism. - 15/26

Nemo's (approx.) 50-ft descent in those irregular panels on the right side of the page (11 and 12) from the single coloured simulation sky towards the cranberry sauce ocean creates a brilliant panel transition. - 16/26

The gutter almost becomes a portal transporting Nemo from the chaotic destruction of his family into a place where his parents are simply not allowed to follow him. - 17/26

He isn't concerned for his own well-being in this place because he knows, perhaps unconsciously, that he won't be harmed, but his parents safety is not so equally secure. - 18/26

They exist within the simulated world of the early panels and, though we don't see it, I’d argue that they both do actually die in this strip; their simulated selves are destroyed not by the turkey, but by Nemo's awakening in the final panel. - 19/26

Is it possible then that Nemo is concerned for their well-being not because of what the oversized Thanksgiving dinner has done to them, but more because he knows they will cease to be upon his own awakening. - 20/26

I feel as though the spatial and formal arrangement of the page supports this idea… visually, it is Nemo (not the turkey) who is covered in red from head to toe in the penultimate panel… cranberry sauce? Supposedly. Blood? You tell me. - 21/26

This analysis is all instigated by the layout rhetoric born from that central circular panel. Without it, we lose the dramatic impact of Nemo's impossible fall and the transition from simulation to surrealism in the right-side panels. - 22/26

It's for this reason when Scott Bukatman suggests that "these strips are more overtly decorative than immersive" (86), I can only disagree. - 23/26

A final note, McCay has also abandoned the "crutch" of the DotRF gag in the final panel. This time, his grandpa simply quiets him, without berating him for causing his own distress. - 24/26

That McCay chose to forego this supportive element in his most innovative and formally experimental strip to date is, for this reader, a big step towards embracing the "look what I can do" mentality that #LittleNemo is known for! - 25/26

This is my reading of "Little Nemo in Slumberland" #7. What's yours? - 26/26