JF Ptak Science Books Post 1950
The revolutionary comic strip generator Winsor McCay had a great 12 months in 1904/1905. McCay may have been the Einstein of his field, and his work I think may still be the standard bearer for high excellence and creativity. It was in 1904 that he began his Dreams of a Rarebit Fiend, which seems to have also launched the main character for the creation of his crowning masterpiece of the medium, Little Nemo in Slumberland, which would premier in 1905. (McCay's work was appearing in two different newspapers in New York in 19041, forcing him to contractually sign his work for Rarebit as "Silas"). Nothing had really quite been seen like that before, two newspaper strips that were filled with vision and elegance and weirdness and the bizarre, beautiful stories illustrated on one sheet of paper, of great imagination and a wide stretch of subversiveness. They so captivated the readers of the time that McCay went off on illustrative lecture circuits, found movie (in their relative infancy) versions of his work, and performed in vaudeville venues along with Charlie Chaplin and W.C. Fields.
What is different in Rarebit from McCay's other work seems to be its new material from strip to strip--there's no recurring characters--unlike Nemo, which has storylines that continue for periods of weeks--and there is a great reliance on message than in the usually-beautiful artwork that is found in Little Nemo. Rarebit tells a social story, and is capable of satirizing political and other issues; this is almost never the case in Little Nemo.
There's also the appearance of giants in --this one, in particular, we see a New York City stomper of varying heights. The giant seems tallest when standing on the New Jersey palisades; when he gets to Daniel Burnham's Beaux-Arts Flatiron/Fuller building--which had just been completed a few years before this strip--he rises above it by about 1/4, making him about 400' tall. When he gets to the Statue of Liberty, which is about 305' from ground to the base of the torch, making the giant somewhat shorter than earlier, tough he seems his mightiest when sitting on the center span of the Brooklyn Bridge, this portrayal making him seem considerably taller than the earlier 400', as the height of the bridge from tower to river is about 276'). I'm not altogether sure of how early NYC-attacking giants come in in the literature, though there are plenty of other appearances of giants in the history of myth and literature (including the Cyclops, Eoclesia, Paul Bunyan, Fatna/Fanolt, Gargantua, Goliath, Orin, the Kraken, Rukh, Zeus, and so on, all of whom come before our Wall-Street-Wrecking giant rarebit fiend. (I wrote earlier in this blog on an Alphabet of Giants, here). There is an 11-minute movie (The Pet, 1921) by McCay featuring a city-attacking giant, which may actually be the first movie featuring a gigantic-anything distributing mayhem on a city:
Its unclear to me why a person should have nightmares from the seasoned cheese slathered toast that it is rarebit--it seems fairly innocuous, unless of course it is weirdly seasoned or the cheese is bad. But this is Cartoonlandia, which means anything is possible.
1. The strip ran from September 1904 to 1911; it appeared in different papers and under different title for a few years from 1911-1913, and then once again revived under a different name in bits and spurts from 1923 to 1925.