Saturday, 12 April 2008

Winsor McCay

By a spooky coincidence there was an article about Maurice Sendak in this Saturday's Guardian magazine supplement here in the UK. The article was by Jonathan Jones, one of the paper's art critics. Maybe because it was by an art (proper art, high art - not comic book art) critic it was full of how Sendak's work was reminiscent of all kinds of real artists.

Sendak was great because his babies were like those of Philip Otto Runge and Caspar David Friedrich. The floppy dough aeroplane of In the Night Kitchen was reminiscent of Claes Oldenburg's soft sculptures. Well done Maurice.

It is not that these statements are necessarily false, it is just typical of a critic more used to gallery art. They tend to know little about popular art forms and therefore even when they praise - as Jones does here with Sendak - they have to validate that approval in some way.

The more obvious work that In the Night Kitchen is reminiscent of is Winsor McCay's Little Nemo in Slumberland strips. The homage is obvious (and Sendak has acknowledged it) to anyone who knows Little Nemo, but is still seldom mentioned. To his credit Jones does mention the Little Nemo link, but then describes it merely as a '1900 New York comic strip' and says nothing of Winsor McCay. He mentions Philip Otto Runge, but not Winsor McCay!

Winsor McCay is a hugely influential figure, it is just that his influence has been in areas (comic books, animation) that clearly do not interest Jonathan Jones. His work is subtle and weird and brilliant. Jones says, 'While the original is a congested, chaotic comic strip, what Sendak does is give the images more air to breathe. . .'

Chaotic? Congested? I don't think so. There is more going on in Macbeth than there is in Dr Who, but that isn't normally seen as being in Dr Who's favour. He says that Sendak is constantly wondering 'what pictures can show that words can't tell', when McCay, not Sendak, was the master of sequential drawing.

Pat Sendak on the head by all means, but don't do it by elbowing Winsor McCay out of the picture.

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