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The Influence of Winsor McCay on Cinema

Winsor McCay drawing

Joshua Glenn of the Boston Globe has created an audio slideshow presentation that points out the influence of cartoonist Winsor McCay on cinema. Films like King Kong, Dumbo, and Mary Poppins are used as examples.

(via BB)

  • Chuck R.

    Great piece, Joshua —Thanks!

    I’ve always thought that Winsor McCay was the greatest animation pioneer that influenced nobody. His draughtsmanship was too sophisticated to be mass-produced, so animation went the hose-and-circles route and evolved from there.

    It’s no surprise that there are more homages to McCay’s ideas than his style. Notice how many films mentioned are live action.

  • Oh, my WORD! Quiiiiite fascinating!! I love the parallels. Who knew??

  • Galen Fott

    I love this Chuck Jones quote about McCay:
    “It is as though the first creature to emerge from the primeval slime was Albert Einstein; and the second was an amoeba, because after McCay’s animation, it took his followers nearly twenty years to find out how he did it.”

  • Its wonderful to see all these great McCay anthologies coming out! I love seeing McCay’s work get the attention it deserves.

    We’re also trying to give Winsor McCay some much overdue attention in his hometown. I welcome anyone that’s interested in such news to check out the updates here:

    Yea McCay!

  • I always wondered what his influence was on film editing. The idea that sequential composed shots can relate to each other in a way that makes immediate sense to the human mind. It was my understanding that was one of McKay’s great achievements was bringing that kind of putting images in sequence in a revolutionary way to comics.

  • Actually this post happens to bring up the two things that at provoked me about Ulrich Merkl’s amazing and borderline unwieldy book (which by the way I’m thrilled to own).

    Firstly the graphic use of red re-coloring (as seen in the image above). While fortunately it’s not employed in the full strip examples within the book, the repeated use red highlighting inside many excerpted panels throughout the book is a notable eyesore within the book’s design. It reminds me of someone being obsessed with using a highlighter pen. Could it be because the author could work with a second color plate they did that

    Mainly the crux of what troubles me is what exactly to make of the strip and famous film parallels being presented by Mr. Merkl (and multimedia-ized in the Boston Globe webpage). In one sense maybe I can be understanding. Mr. Merkl seems to be saying “hey look, isn’t this amazing how close the McCay strip of the 1900s or 1910s is to the 1930s or later film. So in the sense of finding what could be at minimum a coincidence is at least interesting.

    The author seems to imply but doesn’t seem to outright claim the film works were inspired by (or potentially even ripped off from) the strip. What bothers me is the lack of any scholarly backing up of the examples. I mean it’s one thing to bring up the coincidence. Perhaps the author is just hoping someone reading the book will take up the challenge of providing some scholarship as proof. The Boston Globe surely goes out to a greater audience than the book, which certainly helps promote the book, but seemingly might help establish an unproven myth that the films and filmmakers cited were indeed influenced by the strip. The book doesn’t provide any info I could find on who could have been exposed to the work. Unlike for instance major European artists in the 1930s mentioning admiration of “Krazy Kat” by name, a strip that was contemporary, I for one wonder what kind of exposure the various filmmakers could have had to these decades old strips.

    An equal point might be made in my mind is that as the strip mined nightmare archetypes for 800 or so stories, one would be surprised if there weren’t parallels with a good portion of nightmare situations depicted in films.

  • Chuck R.

    Nicholas: Yes, it would be nice if the book led to some substantiation of these various “coincidences”. At the same time, I wouldn’t discount the influence of decades-old artwork either. Just look at the impact of Heinrich Kley on Disney artists during the 30’s and 40’s.