Sep 21, 2012

Little Nemo in Slumberland


Winsor McKay's Little Nemo (1905-1914) comes from the era when comic strips were works of art, intricately detailed and gorgeously realized. It is about a boy who visits a dreamworld every night, only to be awakened at a climactic moment, usually when he was about to be eaten or destroyed.  In early strips, his goal was to reach Dreamland, where he would become the consort of the Princess.

But soon a boy named Flip came into the picture.  The exiled son of the Sun and nephew of the Dawn, he wore worn hobo costumes and green clown makeup, and chomped on a cigar to demonstrate that he was a Lord of Misrule.  He decided that he didn't want Nemo to reach the Princess, so at climactic moments he would shout "Wake up!" or display the words "Wake up!" on his hat, and Nemo's quest for heterosexual fulfillment would be foiled for another day.

Why was Flip so obsessed with ruining Nemo's quest for the Princess?  Because he had designs on Nemo himself!  He was a trickster, a "queer" character, disrupting the presumed naturalness of the heterosexual bond.


It seemed to work.  Within a few years, the Princess was forgotten, and Nemo and Flip were constant companions, exploring little-known corners of Slumberland, diving under the ocean, taking a dirigible to Mars.

Eventually Nemo picked up the Imp, an African stereotype (though he was actually from a cannibal tribe in Slumberland), who spoke only in gibberish, but proved a brave and loyal companion.  Naturally, Flip was jealous, and the two argued and fought constantly.

The queer subtext is obvious: two boys bonding, rescuing each other, forming an emotional attachment, jealously guarding against potential interlopers, with the original heterosexual goal of the journey long forgotten.

See also: Alphonse and Gaston