Editorial Cartoons by Winsor McCay
January 18, 2010 11:41 AM   Subscribe

A selection of editorial cartoons by Winsor McCay

Tons of out-of-copyright works by McCay are available for your viewing pleasure here. The 1914 animated short Gertie the Dinosaur. Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend is available at Google Books. McCay's Wikipedia entry. (Previously)
posted by BitterOldPunk (38 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
 
Wow. These are really cool. I love the "Technocracy" one.
posted by brundlefly at 11:48 AM on January 18, 2010


I really like these. The file names showing the dates these were released adds some interesting insight.
posted by KGMoney at 11:48 AM on January 18, 2010


From that second link, some of the Rarebit Fiend stories remind me a bit of R. Crumb comics. I wonder if there's an influence there or if it's coincidental.
posted by KGMoney at 12:01 PM on January 18, 2010


Thanks. Didn't know he did stuff besides Little Nemo.
posted by kozad at 12:02 PM on January 18, 2010


Awesome.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:05 PM on January 18, 2010


He predicted the The Sims 2.
posted by edbles at 12:16 PM on January 18, 2010


YESSSSSS.
posted by Greg Nog at 12:23 PM on January 18, 2010


Whoops, bad tagging. The Sims 2.
posted by edbles at 12:25 PM on January 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


FLIRTERS GON GET SMASHED
posted by Greg Nog at 12:28 PM on January 18, 2010


If Mr. McCay thinks that the image of an enormous mechanical dragon devouring a city is going to make me think the idea of technocracy is bad, he is sorely mistaken. If anything, it has the opposite effect.
posted by Caduceus at 12:31 PM on January 18, 2010 [6 favorites]


Wow, some of those are pretty fucking classist. Women's suffrage will be awesome because nice middle-class WASP ladies will get to vote and cancel out the votes of working-class Irish-Americans! HOORAY!
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:31 PM on January 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


Thanks. I've always loved McCay's editorial cartoons, and this collection has many I'd never seen before. Nor had I seen the "explanation" behind the rarebit theme. While I appreciated the cartoons, the premise was completely alien to me.
posted by 2N2222 at 12:33 PM on January 18, 2010


I knew about his inclinations towards isolationism, racism, and anti-immigration. (Even the awesome image Marisa links to compares clean, noble-looking white women to grotty, shiftless immigrants, asians and black men, and asks who deserves to have the vote. Ick.)

But that doesn't make any of these less amazing: The neanderthal social perspective (in some ways; progressive by current standards in others; you can't easily describe old political factions by comparing them to modern political factions) is combined with a strikingly modern art and composition. The man could draw like nobody else and was precise like a showroom of Swiss watches. So I have to keep my eyes from rolling and stay focused on how great the art is. Kind of like watching a D.W. Griffith movie.
posted by ardgedee at 12:37 PM on January 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


Not to mention his later illustrations praising Mussolini.

Nevertheless, I do love Little Nemo.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:41 PM on January 18, 2010


Oh my, how wonderfully he has grown.

The grandeur of dignity and power indeed.
posted by Jawn at 12:45 PM on January 18, 2010


Wow, some of those are pretty fucking classist. Women's suffrage will be awesome because nice middle-class WASP ladies will get to vote and cancel out the votes of working-class Irish-Americans! HOORAY!

Woah. Didn't think about it that way. Don't know where the Irish come into it, but apart from that I can see what you mean. I just took it in the context of the discussion at the time, which included the argument that women shouldn't fret their pretty little heads about politics, and should instead leave all the thinkin' to the superior and far more intelligent male sex.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:54 PM on January 18, 2010


You know, the draconian conditions of surrender imposed on Germany at the end of World War I, which led directly to Germany's enormous resentment and subsequent build up to the 3rd Reich and World War II, were imposed on them in the first place because World War I dragged on for so long and cost so much. If the war had ended decisively sooner, the conditions for the losing side probably wouldn't have been as harsh.

And there's little doubt that if America had joined the war sooner, the overwhelming manpower and industrial production they had available to them would have resulted in the defeat of the Central Powers much sooner. While more Americans would have died in that situation, over all the loss of life would probably have been much less. It probably would have also stopped World War II, at least in the form we know it in, as the surrender conditions wouldn't have been as harsh for Germany. And it's very possible it would have prevented the October Revolution and the creation of the USSR, as that was directly precipitated by the effects of the war on Czarist Russia.

That's all the benefit of hindsight, of course, and admittedly my interested is purely amateur, based on the relatively small amount of reading on World War I I've been doing lately, and what-ifs, of course, are not good history. But I still think American isolationism was stupid.

Also, what the fuck are those wolf things in this?
posted by Caduceus at 12:54 PM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wasn't McCay effectively obliged to keep doing the editorial cartoons, which paid very well, in order to fund his lifestyle - although he would have preferred (and perhaps been better advised artistically) to carry on with Nemo and the like?

Great stuff, in any case.
posted by Phanx at 1:11 PM on January 18, 2010


If I recall correctly - I don't have all the books of McCay's work I used to have, just the two hugemungous volumes of Nemo from Sunday press - McCay was working from briefs set down by the editor for all of editorial cartoons (or maybe illustrating entire text editorials, I'm not sure), rather than being entirely responsible for both the narrative content and the drawing.

I halfway recall some mention of him explicitly not agreeing with the opinions Hearst had him illustrate but I might be imagining that.
posted by egypturnash at 1:28 PM on January 18, 2010


It's amusing that much of McCay's work is difficult to translate into the modern political spectrum. I always assumed he was probably considered a progressive in his time, though I've never read anything about his politics. Cartoons like Caduceus mentions go over my head, and I've not seen any collections that offer much in the way of context. I make allowances for where the world may have been at the time, and appreciate the drawings on their artistic merit.

Truth be told, McCay's work really is a mystery to me. I have no connection to his world to really make much sense of it. Little Nemo sort of holds up to modern audiences, but I think just barely, and mostly if you only take a few at a time. Some of his other works like the Rarebit Fiend series, Little Sammy Sneeze, and the editorials are just as likely to elicit a "WTF?" as much as appreciation. In the end, this lack of context may be one of the endearing things about his work today.
posted by 2N2222 at 1:29 PM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Don't know where the Irish come into it

The comment in the skeevy-looking guy's dialogue bubble is written in what was then the conventional orthography for depicting uneducated Irish-Americans' language. (Cf. Finley Peter Dunne.)
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:38 PM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


I like the Death Panel.
posted by Ratio at 1:44 PM on January 18, 2010


Also, what the fuck are those wolf things in this?
The Great Brooklyn Wolf Plague of 1913 ran for an entire summer, leaving many of the burrough's residents terrified to even leave their homes. A wealthy entrepeneur named Dr. Phineus Brightstone brought to New York a pack of wolves that had been trapped on his mining property in the Yukon. Keeping them as pets in his uptown penthouse, they escaped one day when an unsuspecting housekeeper came to Brightstone's penthouse at the start of her shift. Seeing the wolves wandering the place, she ran away in a panic, apparently leaving the door open. Wolves are known for their intelligence, and were able to find their way down the twenty stories of the building to street level, where they made their escape. For the next four months, they ate mostly garbage, and attacked a few stray cats, but avoided people altogether, as wolves are wont to do. This didn't stop Brooklynites from living in mortal terror of the wolves, and they demanded city authorities do something about them. City council first proposed deputizing a posse to roam the neighborhood with rifles to hunt the wolves down, but this proved prohibitively expensive to even organize. The next idea was to poison the garbage, but this was estimated to cost even more. In the end, Brooklyn residents themselves took matters into their own hands - a mob cornered the pack in an open sewer, doused them in kerosene, and set them on fire. While most agreed that this was the end of the Brooklyn Wolf Plague, some contended that a few wolves escaped, and lent their genes to the often unusually large breed of strays still found in the burrough to this day. - Legends and Bizarre Facts of New York, U.N Owen, 1956.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:07 PM on January 18, 2010 [11 favorites]


Wow. Marisa, I was laughing at that story till I got to the end. Poor wolves. Great story though!
posted by brundlefly at 2:14 PM on January 18, 2010


I love Rarebit Fiend; there are many pages missing from that googlebook, and there is another entire collection of the Saturday RF comics. His genius is the creative ways he used the frame, manipulating the image within it, spinning it, stretching it, whatever, to tell the story of the surreal world of dreams. He created cinematic techniques before cinema existed. I'm curious, what about that doesn't translate?
posted by tula at 2:30 PM on January 18, 2010


Dude could fucking draw.
posted by signal at 7:55 PM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


These are great, I particularly enjoyed the anti-drugs ones.
But what a draughtsman!
posted by SyntacticSugar at 6:22 AM on January 19, 2010


YES
posted by The Whelk at 8:14 AM on January 19, 2010


Wow, some of those are pretty fucking classist. Women's suffrage will be awesome because nice middle-class WASP ladies will get to vote and cancel out the votes of working-class Irish-Americans! HOORAY!

McCay was hardly the only person to think this at the time, though. Don't forget that he was active only a generation or two after the Irish Famine, with its resulting flood of Irish refugees, and so Irish-Americans weren't quite as "assimilated" as they are today. Not that things were still in "Gangs Of New York" territory, but plenty people were still looking at the Irish as a backwards and uneducated "other" rather than as full-fledged citizenry.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:34 AM on January 19, 2010


Wow, some of those are pretty fucking classist. Women's suffrage will be awesome because nice middle-class WASP ladies will get to vote and cancel out the votes of working-class Irish-Americans! HOORAY!

Yes, Sidhedevil, taken completely out of context of the times and history, that is indeed the superficial, racist implication.

It doesn't take much observation to realize that other minorities than just the Irish are depicted there, either, so I'd have to wonder why you were so quick to judge this cartoon as racist that you missed even this gem.

However, once one learns that political machines like Tammany bought and controlled the vote of many minority votes, including immigrants like the Irish, which thereby degraded a democracy into an oligarchy, another possible implication arises: that women's votes won't be so easily bought and sold; that they cared enough about issues to oppose evil, regardless of who offered to buy them drink on election day.

Most importantly, you seem to have missed the fat-cat in the top hat with cane & mustache, a well-established stereotype image of the self-centered wealthy power broker, directing the men to vote (and presumably, how to vote). Do you suppose that the cartoonist included him by happenstance? A slip of the pen, perhaps?

Now, you criticize the cartoon for depicting only middle-class WASP ladies. How many poor or racial-minority women commonly picketed for suffrage? You don't know, do you? - because you aren't looking that deeply into the cartoon. I'll tell you. In 1914, when rich and middle-class women were being imprisoned and spat upon for participating in suffrage pickets, poor women worked 10 or more hours per day, every day, to keep their family fed and clothed, and had no time for picketing and political activism. And minority women mostly didn't dare speak out, in that day when their menfolk were not infrequently hanged or burned alive by lynch mobs for the same "crime".

Honestly, in your rush to declaim this nearly century-old political cartoon for not adhering to 2010 social niceties, you seem to have missed every single issue in this cartoon except the existence of men, women, and voting. Well done.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:21 PM on January 19, 2010


.....IAmBroom, Sidhedevil described this cartoon as CLASSIST, not RACIST.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:24 PM on January 19, 2010


My mistake, EmpressCallipygos. Seems I read his critique over-quick!

Everything else stands, however...
posted by IAmBroom at 12:44 PM on January 19, 2010


...In that case, I'm not sure why you've been so vehemently affected by someone who made an observation that, to me, didn't look like anything more severe than, "wow, this guy in 1914 sure thought differently than people did today." Not everyone has the benefit of exposure to first-hand historic sources, and when we're confronted for the first time with an example of how The Past Can Truly Be A Different Country, it can be a shock.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:54 PM on January 19, 2010


Because everything else stands, however - except the word "racism". Which, BTW, is still accurate: he calls out Irish-Americans and WASPs, which are as much racial groups as they are "classes".

His comment completely missed the point of the cartoon, and villified it for probably-unwarranted "classism".
posted by IAmBroom at 2:05 PM on January 19, 2010


And... because I'm apparently dealing with some bad news in my life by being a dick online.

I truly think there is nothing racist nor classist in the cartoon, given an understanding of the context in which it was made.

But that's no excuse for my heavy-handed response.
posted by IAmBroom at 3:59 PM on January 19, 2010


It'd be nice if these had some context given to them by the blogger. Some of them are straightforward, but others (like the "innocent flirtation" one) are truly mystifying. Who is it depicting? What scandal? I guess it doesn't really matter but I'd kinda like to know.
posted by Target Practice at 4:53 AM on January 20, 2010


I approve of this post.
posted by Rarebit Fiend at 8:25 AM on January 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


> others (like the "innocent flirtation" one) are truly mystifying. Who is it depicting? What scandal?

It's probably not portraying any particular event, but instead generally cautioning America's youth to behave pure and chaste at all times, lest they gain reputations for loose morals. Yes, back in the day, they were that uptight.

There was a time when public displays of affection were to be avoided, and women and men had to cover up completely, and a glimpse of stocking was something shocking. But now? Heaven knows, anything goes.
posted by ardgedee at 9:42 AM on January 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


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