Magnificent is the word that comes to mind when describing Winsor McCay’s comic strip panels.  He created impeccably detailed images with great depth recording wildly imaginative visions of a fantasy world as delightful and transporting as any in the history of art.

As a strip, Little Nemo is whimsical rather than funny.  The action takes place within the individual panels, not in their sequences — the visual storytelling is thus not dynamic in the cinematic style of most great comic strips.  For the most part we move from panel to panel as through they were linked by cinematic dissolves from one tableau to the next — but the tableaux can take your breath away.


They work as renditions of seductive dream spaces, that invite you to enter them physically, and also as graphic designs of great sophistication and elegance.  Their aesthetic appeal is inexhaustible, even if you prefer strips with more narrative momentum.

They need to be seen in large-scale reproductions in order to be fully appreciated and relished.  (The scans reproduced here don’t even begin to do them justice.)  Fortunately Sunday Press Books has published two of its gargantuan volumes presenting selections of the Sunday strips in the size of actual newspaper pages, as they first appeared, and Taschen Books has published a somewhat smaller but still enormous single volume collecting all the Sunday pages.

Together they document one of the supreme achievements of visual art in America.

Click on the images to enlarge.



Dick Tracy is a hard comic strip to love but an easy one to get addicted to.  Its author Chester Gould was attracted to the grotesque, an attraction he indulged more and more outrageously as the strip progressed through the decades.


Tracy had a faintly grotesque look from the beginning — he was a hard edged caricature of a tough police detective — even though the characters around him looked relatively normal.  The hard edges signified a relentless hatred of criminals and also a fierce independence — he always did things his way and rarely let his fellow cops in on his investigative stratagems.


There’s something grimly fascinating about him and about the dark underworlds he has to penetrate in order to solve his cases.  The strip started out as a fairly conventional police procedural with an unconventional protagonist.  It would eventually become stranger, with fantastical villains and plots.  It was always lurid, to one degree or another, and that constitutes its vaguely perverse charm.