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Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend


“Holy Sh-t!” I gotta have this book.

That was my reaction when I first saw it – and now I have it. I’d heard about the book, but had no idea about how all-encompassing this project was. To say that Ulrich Merkl’s The Complete Dream Of The Rarebit Fiend is exhaustive is an understatement.

I don’t know if you are familiar with Valley of the Cliffhangers, an insanely large, limited edition oversized book on Republic movie serials, but this Winsor McCay collection is its comic strip equivilent.

First off, it’s huge (12″ x 17″), heavy (it weighs almost ten pounds) and 464 pages. It costs $114.00 (U.S.$) and it’s worth every penny. It reprints, on fine glossy stock, all 369 Rarebit Fiend strips (annotated) from 1904-1913. But there is much, much more here. Combined with John Canemaker’s McCay bio (which the author highly recommends) one is left with a thoroughly complete picture of McCay’s life’s work.

This book contains numerous examples of McCay’s other work – sheet music, newspaper clippings (including a long review of his vaudeville act, and his obituary from the New York Times), and extensive illustrated section on recurring themes in McCay’s artwork, and examples of how McCay’s work influenced motion pictures like King Kong, Dumbo and Mary Poppins. An eye-opening section of comics precursors and imitators (comics and animated films) and several large quotes and articles written by McCay explaining his inspirations. There is so much more, including a DVD/CD-ROM version to enjoy on your computer.

It’s lavish, and has to be seen to be believed. This book is a must have for anyone interested in McCay, or comic strip and animation history. An important book, and a valuable companion to Canemaker’s essential McCay biography. I’ll sum up with three words of wisdom: Buy it now.

  • Larry T

    I agree- for anyone that’s interested in masterful draughtsmanship, excellent storytelling, and completely mind-f**king (and almost horrific) storylines, this book is a must-have.

  • John Tebbel

    To which I can only add that Little Nemo in Slumberland: So Many Splendid Sundays would enhance any collection. It’s the best reprints I’ve yet seen of what many consider his Magnum yadda yadda.

    Second printing still available new (and used) at Amazon. [Insanely full disclosure: Many months ago, when said volume was first published, my beautiful wife, Martha Thomases, was employed to publicize that event. Being of weak mind (I like “Cathy”), my testimony on these products could be tainted pork; you decide.]

  • It would be nice to have a copy, but I’ll bet a lot of us collectors have already invested heavily in the Checker group reprints of McCay. I feel that spending money over and over for essentially the same material is a waste of resources. Not to disparage this volume, which I have not seen. This happens with comic strip reprints all the time, Dick Tracy for one. In the case of McCay strips, there are no fees for the reprinter to pay, all PD stuff.

  • Hank

    There was a Dover paperback collection of all but one McCay “Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend”, published in the 1970’s, that went for about five bucks. It might be available today on Ebay. The printed material is the same but the paper was just acid-sized bond. The omitted strip was cut by the publisher at the time because of alleged over-the-top racist content.

  • Regarding what Hank said. Actually the Dover collection reprints a bound reprint collection of just 57 or so strips first published in 1905. It’s still available from Amazon.com, etc.. Checker, by the way, fully reprinted the same content including the omitted canibalism strip in their “Early Works vol. 1”.

    The strip as a whole ran much longer (1904-1911 plus later quasi continuations/spinoffs for different papers with diferent names in later years) and in a number of different page formats including a few in color.

    There is something to be said about Checker reprinting a lot of the material over various volumes. They did recently publish 182 pages of the horizontal format strips in “Dream of the Rarebit Fiend – the Saturdays”. It’s reasonably though not expertly cleaned up and quite affordable in their paperback edition. I believe it reprints some material they themselves published in smaller poorer quality format recently plus some material they didn’t compile before. For numerous reasons Checker’s presentation leaves much to be desired but it’s one of those “better than not being republished at all” sorts of things. I’ve not seen this far bigger and more expensive book yet. I will probably get it when I have the money since it must certainly be far better than the “better than not being republished at all” quality of the Checker compilations.

    Oh, and while more related to Edwin Porter’s live action 1906 film short –
    (with a borrowed and rather out of period Warner Bros. score) than to McCays own animated versions,
    some years back I participated on a live action student adaptation of several Rarebit strips now stuck up on youtube.

  • Hi folks, word-eating time! Jerry just showed me his copy of the Merkl
    Rarebit Fiend omnibus, and he is certainly blameless in his praise! It is a beautiful volume, heavy as a barbell, full of great reproductions of all the Rarebit strips (I assume) and comparison pages showing how Rarebit influenced pictures like “King Kong” and “Mary Poppins”. It really has to be seen to be appreciated. I’m sorry I criticized it, but it’s definitely worth the money. Will I get it? Still don’t know, but you should!