Winsor McKay’s Little Nemo: A 15-Month Centennial Calendar. By Peter Maresca. Sunday Press Books. $22.95 from www.sundaypress.com.
It does not matter how many wall calendars you have for 2006. You need another one. If you have none and want one, this is the one to get. If you don’t care for wall calendars, this one will change your mind. There is simply nothing like it anywhere – and hasn’t been, really, for a century.
Talk about a labor of love (and very, very, very long hours): Peter Maresca has resuscitated the most beautifully drawn comic strip of all time, Winsor McKay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland, and turned 15 of McKay’s magnificent Sunday panels into calendar pages. At 14 by 20 inches, the calendar is actually smaller than McKay’s work was when originally printed in The New York Herald on cheap newsprint (the horror!). You can see McKay’s work in full size in Maresca’s superb book of Sunday pages – but at $120 plus postage, it is pricey if you are not a devotee of comic art (though it’s priceless if you are). As an alternative to the book, or a supplement, this calendar is a wonderful way to immerse yourself in an experience largely unavailable for a century.
There is nothing at all fusty about McKay’s adventures of five-to-six-year-old Nemo, an ordinary little boy who has extraordinary adventures every time he goes to bed. Yes, some of the narration sounds a bit dated – but it flows from drawing to drawing in very modern style. Yes, the characters’ clothes are old-fashioned – but the surrealistic landscapes, people and creatures of Slumberland are timeless. This strip has never lacked for a cult following – now Maresca’s calendar opens it up to everyone.
And what an opening! Even calling McKay’s work a “comic strip” cheapens it – it was artwork, offered every Sunday to anyone with the price of a newspaper. Maresca has done a wonderful job of selecting Sunday pages for the calendar. The January page features Nemo meeting Father Time, who takes him to the wall where years are made and invites Nemo to choose a year and see what he will look and feel like then. Thus, Nemo instantly becomes 15, then 25, then 48 – and then, when left alone, over-curiously heads for the year 1999….
The marvelous March page, filled with forced perspective and McKay’s usual extraordinary detail, features a magnificent peacock-pulled cart beneath a smiling and astonished sun. For May, Nemo turns into a five-year-old giant (in one panel, a tiny, realistically drawn bear looks up at him from ankle height) and confronts the mountainous Guards of the Fourth Gate. September features an utterly amazing set of five huge vertical panels showing the approach toward the reader of a gigantic elephant, whose trunk and open mouth nearly fill the fifth of them. Every single page is a garden of delights – worthy of keeping year after year, no matter what the date. It was McKay’s conceit that each page ended with Nemo waking up, safe at home but often frustrated, in a manner related to his Slumberland adventures. But you won’t want to awaken from the world into which McKay takes you. This is less a calendar than a work of art in 15 pages. If you want a really happy new year, treat yourself to this unmatchable experience. And buy a second calendar if you care deeply enough for someone to share dreams with him or her.
December 29, 2005
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