Books

Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend

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“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.

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