Monday, 14 March 2011

Winsor McCay

"Animation should be an art....what you fellows have done with it is making it into a trade....not an art, but a trade....bad luck ." Thus Winsor McCay, father of the animated cartoon, pronounced the doom of the very industry he had inadvertently helped create.' (Crandol)

Winsor McCay began making a big name for himself when he relocated to New York. He had taken a job at the New York Herald where through 1904 to 1911 he was producing comic strips where he found his first success with the strip Little Sammy Sneeze. This strip and the few others that McCay had created were very formulaic in the narrative and way they were presented and McCay's true talent was let loose on a strip known as Little Nemo. Chalk-talk artists were very popular at the time and McCay took his Little Nemo to broadway performing this chalk-talk across the street. From this McCay would be inspired to merge both his strips and vaudeville act into one creating an animated cartoon. Little Nemo had nothing in terms of story but rather an experiment in perspective and moving characters but was followed How a Mosquito Operates. This was 6,000 images long and followed the story of a mosquito pestering a sleeping man and greedily sucking up too much blood to then explode. 

In 1914 saw the introduction of McCay's Gertie the Dinosaur starring an emotional dinosaur called Gertie who when prompted by McCay would move to the request. The animation had an amazing sense of perspective and size, for example McCay showed Gertie throwing a Mammoth into the background and when interacting with Gertie the Pumpkin that he hands over reduces dramatically in size. McCay puts himself into the animation at the end as well where he is seen riding off on Gertie's back. These tricks were imperetive in McCay's animation as it could be read and understood easily as huge in size. 

' the act's conclusion, appears to walk into the cartoon's space.....Of course, that movement from offscreen space into the depth of the filmed world, into animating space, was apparently meant for a different effect, one of amusement and awe rather fear, thanks to the manner which it pointedly toys with reality, emphasising the skills of the showman-animator and the constructed nature of the filmic is an effect that....still carries its own weight of anxiety because of the modernist attitude toward space that it demonstrates - an attitude that...represents an important legacy for the animated cartoon.' (Telotte, 2010)

The Sinking of the Lusitania was based around the Germans sinking a passenger liner named Lusitania in 1915 which is believed to be the catalyst for the Americans joining the First World War. McCay was outraged by this event and created The Sinking of the Lusitania which seemed to be of a propaganda nature. McCay moved away from a cartoony aspect and took up a more realistic styl.e for the animation. 'In The Sinking of the Lusitania, McCay continues to ground his animation within a realist framework, but in this case he wants to efface the superreal aspects of the medium as much as possible. He wants his film to stand as a dramatic reconstruction of the sinking, and he takes great care over the details of the ships massive weight being penetrated by an explosive force that almost overwhelms the image itself, but it never slides into abstraction: the aim is to stop the ship looking “cartoony”, and to convey a sense of palpable destruction.' (North, 2009)


Crandol, M. The History of Animation: Advantages and Disadvantages of the Studio System in the Production of an Art Form, accessed on 14/3/2011

North, D. (2009)  Winsor McCay's The Sinking of the Lusitania, accessed on 14/3/2011

Telotte, J. P. (2010) Animating Space: From Mickey to Wall-E, page 45, accessed on 14/3/2011 


Winsor McCay's Little Nemo - accessed on 14/3/2011

How a Mosquito Operates - accessed on 14/3/2011 

Gertie the Dinosaur - accessed on 14/3/2011 

An original drawing of the Lusitania by Winsor McCay - accessed on 14/3/2011

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