Sunday, 3 April 2011

Winsor McCay (1867-1934)

Winsor McCay

[1]McCay, (1906)

Zenas Winsor McCay was born in 1867 in Canada. He was named after his father's employer and he quickly dropped Zenas in favor of Winsor. He was raised in Michigan where he started drawing from a very young age. [1]"At the age of 13 he drew a picture of shipwreck on the school blackboard and it was photographed and copies sold" (Canemaker, 1987). Winsor was a boy who loved to draw and never stopped from the day he started.

After working at Wonderland in Detroit for a little while, where he was hired to draw portraits of the customers, He started moving around a lot for work. [2] "McCay left Michigan for Chicago in 1889 where he worked for a printer and roomed with Jules Guerin. In 1891 he moved to Cincinnati. There he settled into the only type of work he knew - he went to work as a staff artists for a local dime museum." (Canemaker, 1987). It was here that he also took drawing lessons from a local instructor who taught perspective drawing. McCay also started drawing for the local newspaper, where he had to start using pen instead of his preferred pencil and paints. He did alot of little bits of work here and there and it wasnt until 1903 where he got An invitation to take a job at the New York Herald.

[2]Little Sammy Sneeze comic strip, (1904-1906)

For years Winsor McCay worked on many different strips over different time periods, with some overlapping. Little Sammy Sneeze, Dream of the Rarebit Fiend and A Pilgrim's Progress are but some of McCay's strips he done while at the New York Herald. These were all very wonderful within their own right, but they were almost like a run up and a learning curve to what McCay really had instore for his "masterpiece".

[3]Little Nemo In Slumberland, (1905)

[3]"Simply put, Little Nemo revolutionized the comic strip. At 38, McCay was at the very peak of his talent and the New York Herald had the most talented and creative color printing staff in the business.(Canemaker, 1987).  On October 15, 1905, "Little Nemo in Slumberland" debuted, which insantly revolutionised the comic strip. Just like McCays earlier strip "Dreams Of A Rarebit Fiend", Little Nemo was set in the dreams of the character and featured fantasy art that attempted to capture the look and feel of dreams.

[4]"Within five years of arriving in New York, McCay had become one of the top artists and performers in the city. Both his comic strips and his vaudeville act were based on pacing and movement. He was about to combine all of these elements into one new art - the animated cartoon."(Canemaker, 1987).

[4]How A Mosquito Operates, (1912)

Now, McCay was not the first person to make an animated cartoon, but because of his previous work and his great understanding of drawing in motion, he is said to be the man who defined the industry. McCay drew every frame of Little Nemo himself, which is a very daunting task considering its made up of 4000 pictures. He was also still working on his 3 comic strips a week for the newspaper during the making of Little Nemo. His next animation called "How A Mosquito Operates", was madeup of 6000 drawings and was also released in theatre. When these two films were released, McCay's fame spread ever further throught what was not established as th "animation community".

[5]Gertie The Dinosaur,(1912)
[5]"Released in 1912, Gertie was originally part of a Vaudville stage show in which McCay directed his dinosaur from stage right."(Gross, 1997)

Not so long later, Gertie The Dinosaur was released in theatre. This was an animatied cartoon about a dinosaur named Gertie and was made up of over 10,000 drawings. Because of the amount of work this was, Winsor McCay called on the help of John A. Fitzsimmons who would assist his in the making of the animation, Fitzsimmons job was to draw all the background for the animation while McCay focussed on the animation of Gertie.

[6]"You can imagine the frenzy when McCay's drawing actually began moving around! Not only could he command Gertie to hop from one foot to the other, or watch helplessly as she toyed with the small mammoth Jumbo, but he even did the amazing by throwing her food and then entering the picture himself!" (Gross, 1997)

Since animation was still quite largely unknown at the time McCay was working, it was like he was practically reinventing the wheel! With his first few animations spreading across america and becoming quite an attraction for a lot of people, there were still a majority of people who were not convinced, and thought it was all a trick. When Gertie The Dinosaur was released, it was a great astonishment and it only proved animation to be real.

Illustration List:

[1] Winsor McCay, (1906). Available at:

[2] Little Sammy Sneeze comic strip, (1904-1906). Available at:

[3] Little Nemo In Slumberland, (1905). Available at:

[4] How A Mosquito Operates, (1912). Available at:

[5] Gertie The Dinosaur, (1912). Available at:


[1] Canemaker, John (1987). Winsor McCay In: [online] Available at:

[2] Canemaker, John (1987). Winsor McCay In: [online] Available at:

[3] Canemaker, John (1987). Winsor McCay In: [online] Available at:

[4] Canemaker, John (1987). Winsor McCay In: [online] Available at:

[5] Gross, Cory (1997), The Lost World: Gertie The Dinosaur In: [online] Available at:

[6] Gross, Cory (1997), The Lost World: Gertie The Dinosaur In: [online] Available at:

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