Monday, December 12, 2011

Busy Days for "Silas"

What with Vaudeville Engagements and Rarebit Dreams Winsor McCay is Kept Hustling.

New York Evening Telegram 28 Oct 1906.

Winsor McCay, the EVENING TELEGRAM cartoonist, is having the most strenuous experience of his career. In the endeavor to fulfill his vaudeville contracts, which call for two performances daily at Keith & Proctor’s Fifth Avenue Theatre this week and a continuance of the same at the Harlem Opera House next week, he has been obliged to utilize his dressing room at the theatre as a studio for the completion of his newspaper work.

No busier artist manipulates the crayon stick in New York today. When Keith & Proctor persuaded McCay to blaze along the vaudeville trail he scarce gave a thought to the exactions of the two appearances which vaudeville demands daily. As his newspaper obligations require the creation in crayon of a page and a half of Little Nemo, Hungry Henrietta, Sammy Sneeze etc., in the Herald, a half page and three three column comics of the Rarebit Fiend and Dull Care in the EVENING TELEGRAM, McCay found it incumbent upon himself to cut out intermissions at the Breslin for luncheon, to send the call boy out for his dinners and buckle down to a real hustle to turn out his unique copy. Indeed, the drawings of the Rarebit Fiend series, which were published in Thursday’s EVENING TELEGRAM were hastily conceived and executed in the star dressing room at the Fifth Avenue Theatre.

Mr. McCay vows he keenly relishes his strenuous struggle to meet both the demands of his papers and his vaudeville engagements, and says that the only time he ever found it even more of a hustle was when he spent a week as the special guest of Major Gordon Lillie in Pawnee Bill’s Wild West Show. On the latter occasion Major Lillie erected a tent especially for McCay, which was called Camp Nemo.

While the idea of a twentieth century studio with all the aesthetic decorations heartily appeals to the cartoonist, still he says he can get quite as much inspiration as he needs even in the stuffy dressing room of a theatre if only he has a “Yorick’s Skull” (property skull) to rest his easel on. Harking back to his “cub” days as an illustrator of news stories, McCay says he has vivid recollections of the days and nights when he sketched views of fires from the roofs of adjacent buildings, of drawings made of scenes at court trials and street parades. “Little Nemo’s” creator was not always a “comic cut-up.” Only for the last three years has he devoted his talents toward the compulsory laughter of his audiences, which view his works through the Herald and TELEGRAM.

He went in strongly for the serious in art always up to three years ago. Then he had a change of heart. His artistic soul didn’t rebel exactly. He yearned to be a Velasquez or a Corot, or maybe a Blakelock, but comics claimed him for its own and now hosts and hosts are merry with him. For all that he has had innumerable dreams as the “Rarebit Fiend” yet he declares that he has never eaten cooked cheese in all his life. McCay’s vaudeville audiences have a thoroughly enjoyable time with him as he rapidly chases his crayon over the easel, and in the execution of the ludicrous antics of “Little Nemo,” of the harrowing experiences of the “Rarebit Fiend,” the faces of the spectators seem to mirror the very fancies in the artist’s mind. In that line lies his particular skill.


  1. "Crayon?" Is this just hyperbolic writing, or does it imply that McCay was pencilling the strips for someone else to ink? I haven't read about McCay using assistants, but it would make sense. No matter how fast the guy was (and clearly he was), it seems impossible that he could turn out the elaborate Nemo pages PLUS all that daily work--while starring in vaudeville--all by himself.

  2. I think the author was describing a 'crayon' as seen in the vaudeville act. He may not have understood how comic strips were created. I have never heard of McCay using assistants -- he drew thousands of drawings for the film Gertie the Dinosaur by himself.