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Comic Strip / Little Nemo

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Little Nemo (originally Little Nemo in Slumberland, much later renamed for copyright reasons to In the Land of Wonderful Dreams), was a weekly Sunday comic strip written by Winsor McCay, which ran from 1905 to 1914. It featured the strange and surreal dreams of a young boy named Nemo. Strips often ended with Nemo waking up from terrifying situations his dreams had led him to.

In 1911 McCay produced a short animated film entitled Winsor McCay, the Famous Cartoonist of the N.Y. Herald and his Moving Comics, also known simply as Little Nemo, featuring characters from Little Nemo comic strip. The film is considered an early landmark in animation and was admitted to the National Film Registry.

Years and years of Sunday strips, now in the Public Domain in the US, can be found in The Comic Strips Library.

Other media includes:

The comic has been referenced in many works in pop culture over the years since experiencing a slight resurgence of popularity in the 1980s. The music video for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' "Runnin' Down a Dream" is an homage to the strips, as is the Genesis song "Scenes from a Night's Dream". A French Coldwave band named themselves Little Nemo in reference to the strip, and made occasional references to the comic in their videos. Its 107th anniversary was celebrated by a very lengthy Google Doodle on Google's site.

Has nothing to do with either Captain Nemo or Finding Nemo, in case you were wondering.

Little Nemo provides examples of:

  • Aborted Arc: Story continuity always came second to the strip's exquisite artwork, but McCay did manage to maintain some semblance of a continuous narrative throughout the strip's run. There are, however, a few times where he abruptly ended whatever plot thread was going on at that moment:
    • In one adventure, Nemo gets separated from his companions, and finds himself in a dilapidated neighborhood outside of Slumberland. After coming into possession of a wish stick, he uses his new power to give the poor new clothes, rebuild rundown areas, and heal a sick little girl from near death. Knowing that the King of Slumberland is offering a huge monetary reward for his safe return, Nemo decides to let the little girl claim it so she can help her home. The Slumberland princess arrives in a massive parade to give the reward and bring Nemo back to the kingdom... and in the very next comic, Nemo finds himself back home (in his dream) because Flip had his uncle Dawn destroy Slumberland for making Flip feel unwelcome. The little girl and the reward for finding Nemo are never brought up again.
    • In a later adventure, after a fairly long visit to Mars, Nemo and his friends return to Earth on their massive airship. Nemo decides to use the airship to take his friends on a trip to various cities in America and Canada, starting with New York and heading west. The airship eventually reaches Chicago, where Nemo is reunited with the Princess of Slumberland, and dialogue makes clear that the next stop is Milwaukee. But in the very next strip, Nemo and the princess are whisked away by the god Mercury into a completely unrelated adventure. The trip through North American cities is never brought up again. This travel arc occurred a little before the comic strip changed newspapers in 1911, from The New York Herald to papers owned by William Randolph Hearst, so the arc was likely to be aborted regardless. However, several strips featuring a completely different arc (involving Nemo making animals talk by sniffing a magic flower) ran in the Herald before the changeover, featuring drab, limited colors compared to the previous strips' vibrant palette. This all suggests the trip across America arc was aborted early due to either McCay or the Herald (or both) not wanting to put any effort in the comic during the remaining months before the changeover.
  • Abusive Parents: Nemo's parents threaten to spank him for things that he does in his sleep that he really has no control over, like falling out of bed, yelling in his sleep, and even kicking the covers off his bed.
  • All Just a Dream: Every single strip is all just a dream.
  • April Fools' Day
  • Art Shift: This strip shows the world around Nemo and Flip gradually turning into art as drawn by Flip. It ends up becoming a nightmare for Nemo when he and his parents begin turning into crudely drawn stick figures.
  • Banister Slide: Nemo and Flip slide down a very long and winding banister in one issue, which ends up going in zigzags, wavy bumps, and corkscrews. It was later featured in the movie.
  • Barbie Doll Anatomy: There are a surprising amount of nude scenes, but both Nemo and Princess Camille lack anything resembling genitals or nipples.
  • Bedmate Reveal: There is one installment of the comic strip where Nemo wakes up, thinking his dream has ended, and to his surprise sees Flip in bed next to him, meaning he's still dreaming.
  • Black Bead Eyes
  • Blackface-Style Caricature: Several of the character designs, most notably Flip and The Imp, skirt rather uncomfortably close to this look.
  • Captured by Cannibals: During the Candy Island story arch this happens to Nemo and Flip.
  • Catapult Nightmare: At the end of about every strip.
  • Christmas Episode: There was one just about every year.
  • Cigar Chomper: Flip likes to chain-smoke cigars.
  • Couch Gag: Each strip ends with Nemo waking up from his dream/nightmare, to various responses from his parents (or himself, if he wakes up alone).
  • Cyclic Trope: McCay enjoyed a publishing environment that allowed an extravagant art style that subsequent generations of sequential artists would be unable to approach until Web Comics became practical.
  • Dreadful Musician:
  • Dream Apocalypse: Flip causes this on more than one occasion by calling his uncle Dawn to bring the sun. This causes Slumberland to "melt away", although it returns the next night when Nemo goes to sleep.
  • Dream Land: What Slumberland is. Also the possible Trope Maker.
  • Dream Within a Dream
  • Dreams vs. Nightmares: The good kingdom of Slumberland (ruled by King Morpheus) is being threatened with mischief by The Trickster Flip. Slightly averted in that Flip is not a nightmare as such but the nephew of The Dawn, who causes Slumberland to disappear each morning and all visitors to wake up. However, Flip causes more than his share of chaos and eventually has his uncle destroy Slumberland permanently (it gets better).
  • The Edwardian Era
  • Early-Installment Weirdness:
    • The first several comics featured narration at the bottom of each panel, describing in detail what's happening in the strip’s visuals. McCay's lack of experience with storytelling is on full display here, as the narration is completely superfluous and unnecessary. Worst of all, the sentences are frequently split between panels, making it difficult to read the narration and dialogue bubbles in any coherent order. Later on, McCay shifted the summarizing narration from below the panels into a scene at the beginning of the comic, where a character will literally summarize what's about to happen in the comic. Thankfully these narration/summarizing sequences were done away with a few strips later.
    • The early comics were also a bit darker in tone and Nemo's dreams much more frequently ended up turning into nightmares, particularly in the early arc involving different characters trying to transport Nemo to Morpheus's castle only for a mishap of some kind to occur that would cause Nemo to get scared and wake up with a start. Around when Nemo finally reached the castle, actual nightmares became less frequent and the situations Nemo and his friends got into, while still surreal as all get out, tended to be much sillier.
  • Every Episode Ending: Nemo either falling out of bed or being woken up at the end of each comic.
  • Failure Is the Only Option: The early strips concern the king's subjects' various attempts to simply get Nemo to the flipping palace. This always goes awry.
  • Floorboard Failure: In Little Nemo in Slumberland, Nemo and Flip are served a new kind of breakfast food that gives them a Balloon Belly. The chairs start to collapse underneath their weight, and then the floors, leading to the entire house being demolished.
  • For the Evulz: Pretty much Flip's entire motivating force, at first.
  • Frame Break: Among its many fourth-wall gags.
  • Gone Swimming, Clothes Stolen: Happened to Flip and Nemo once when a goat ate their clothes.
  • Have a Gay Old Time:
    • In one comic there's a giant named Boob. Hearing someone say "Wait until I see that Boob!" can make modern readers chuckle.
    • "I want to stop and rest a bit, I'm fagged out from running!"
  • Heel–Face Turn: Flip does one in the comic, starting out as the main antagonist by waking Nemo up from his dream to eventually becoming Nemo's friend. Though he was never really "evil" per se, but more of a nuisance. Much later in the comic, he went back to being a nuisance again. Being a nuisance was only the beginning for Flip. His vindictiveness was what caused the real damage. Whenever the people of Slumberland took measures to keep him from ruining their events by being a major nuisance, he retaliated, often ending up wreaking havoc on parts of Slumberland (or having his uncle melt them). At one point, he has his uncle melt down the whole city. Oddly enough, this same tendency is what also what starts his Heel–Face Turn as he saves the group after they're captured by pirates.
  • I Hit You, You Hit The Ground: The (possible) Trope Maker.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: The natives of Candy Island try to eat Nemo and his friends.
  • The Imp: The Imp (yeah, that is his name too).
  • I Wish It Were Real: In one comic Nemo wakes up and wishes Flip were real.
  • Kid Hero
  • Made a Slave: When Flip captures Imp and introduces him to Nemo, he essentially says "He belongs to me now."
  • Male Frontal Nudity: In an installment where Nemo is taking a bath and ends up swimming through the sea, climbing onto an iceberg and getting chased by a polar bear. Of course, we don't actually ''see'' anything, but he is naked the entire time.
  • Medium Awareness:
    • In one installment, Nemo, Flip and Imp are so hungry that they begin tearing off lines from their comic panels and knocking down letters from the Little Nemo in Slumberland logo, eating them. Nemo worries that this will upset the artist but Flip maintains that it will teach the person who draws them a lesson. When Flip asks what's in the letters they're eating Nemo replies that it's printer's ink as far as he knows.
    • And something similar happens in this comic, where eventually the entire panel collapses on itself and Nemo complains to the artist.
  • Nightmare Sequence
  • Non-Ironic Clown: Though Flip's being a cigar-chomping Trickster is somewhat ironic, he's far from a Monster Clown.
  • Ominous Owl: It is averted by the owl in the comics from 1910, when Nemo is touring Earth in his dreams.
  • Pajama-Clad Hero: The title character.
  • Pig Latin: The Professor (who is not to be confused with Professor Genius from the movie) speaks only in Pig Latin.
  • Police Are Useless: McCay lampshades it.
  • Postmodernism: With all of the lampshading, Medium Awareness, Rage Against the Author and the like, it's probably the Ur-Example. Very much ahead of its time.
  • Public Domain Character
  • Puppy Love: Nemo and the Princess, in-universe.
  • Recurring Dreams: The entire comic. Suffice to say, if your dreams keep continuing every night as an ongoing story arc, it's time to see a shrink.
  • Remember the New Guy?: The Professor mainly debuted this way because he was first introduced in a popular Little Nemo stage show based on the comics, which also makes him a Canon Immigrant.
  • Save the Villain: When Flip was still the antagonist Nemo did save him a few times, most notably when King Morpheus' firing squad was about ready to execute Flip, and Nemo ran in front of him to stop it. Of course Flip was less than grateful, because in the next installment he convinces his Uncle Dawn to bring forth the sun and ruin the King's Thanksgiving dinner by waking everyone up.
  • Scenery Porn: Lavish visuals are the main feature of the comic, the likes of which would never be possible in a newspaper comic today.
  • Shout-Out: "Return to Slumberland" features two. The new Nemo having been named after a "cartoon fish" and then there is a character named "Dr. Pill."
  • Show, Don't Tell: Boy howdy, in the early strips this is averted right into Viewers Are Morons territory. The running captions explain every little detail that you can either plainly see or can infer with only minimal brain-power.
  • Sky Pirates: They attack the royal airship in one installment.
  • Sunday Strip
  • Taken for Granite: Nemo is turned into a statue for a week to hide him from Flip in one issue. And the next week Flip gets turned into a statue.
  • There Are No Therapists: You'd think that Nemo's parents would try to get some sort of help for him, seeing as he appears to wake up screaming from nightmares every night, or at least stop feeding him the food they keep blaming it on.
  • The Trickster: Flip
  • The Unintelligible: Imp
  • Vague Age: We never find out just how old Flip is. He's sometimes referred to as a child, and he's certainly the same height as Nemo, though he has a receding hairline and smokes cigars. At one point he claims to be 23 years old but even that is debatable.
  • Walk the Plank: In an issue where Nemo, Flip and the princess are abducted by pirates.
  • Webcomic Time: Although it's also heavily Lampshaded at times, with characters complaining they feel like they've waited "for weeks" for something to happen.