Little Nemo is the main fictional character in a series of weekly comic strips by Winsor McCay (1871-1934) that appeared in the New York Herald and William Randolph Hearst's New York American newspapers from October 15, 1905 – April 23, 1911 and April 30, 1911–1913; respectively. The strip was first called Little Nemo in Slumberland and then In the Land of Wonderful Dreams when it changed papers. A brief revival of the title occurred from 1924-27.
Although a comic strip, it was far from a simple children's fantasy; it was often dark, surreal, threatening, and even violent. The strip related the dreams of a little boy: Nemo (meaning "nobody" in Latin), the hero. The last panel in each strip was always one of Nemo waking up, usually in or near his bed, and often being scolded (or comforted) by one of the grownups of the household after crying out in his sleep and waking them. In the earliest strips, the dream event that woke him up would always be some mishap or disaster that seemed about to lead to serious injury or death, such as being crushed by giant mushrooms, being turned into a monkey, falling from a bridge being held up by "slaves", or gaining 90 years in age. The adventures leading to these disasters all had a common purpose: to get to Slumberland, where he had been summoned by King Morpheus, to be the "playmate" of his daughter, the Princess.
Sometime during early 1906, Nemo did indeed reach the gates of Slumberland, but had to go through about four months of troubles to reach the Princess. His problem was that he kept being awakened by Flip, who wore a hat with "Wake Up" written on it. One sight of Flip's hat was enough to take Nemo back to the land of the living during these early days. Although at first an enemy, Flip went on to become one of the recurring heroes. The others included: Dr. Pill, The Imp, the Candy Kid and Santa Claus as well as the Princess and King Morpheus.
The "Slumberland" of the title soon acquired a double meaning, referring not only to Morpheus's fairy kingdom, but to the state of sleep itself: Nemo would have dream-adventures in other imaginary lands, on the Moon and Mars, and in our own "real" world, made fantastic by the dream-state.
The strip was not a great popular success in its time. Most readers preferred the slapstick antics of such strips as Katzenjammer Kids, Happy Hooligan, and Buster Brown to the surreal fantasy of Nemo, and other comic strips like Krazy Kat. However, during the late 20th century and early 21st century, the strip received more recognition. Among the most noticeable of its qualities were its intricate visual style — often with high levels of background detail — its vivid colours, fast pace of movement from panel to panel and the huge variety of strange characters and scenery.
Certain episodes of the strip are particularly famous. Any list of these would have to include the Night of the Living Houses (said to be the first comic strip to enter the collection of the Louvre) where Nemo and a friend are chased down a city street by a gang of tenement houses on legs; the Walking Bed, where Nemo and Flip ride over the rooftops on the increasingly long limbs of Nemo's bed (see illustration); and the Befuddle Hall sequence, where Nemo and his friends attempt to find their way out of a funhouse environment of a Beaux Arts interior turned topsy-turvy. McCay's mastery of perspective, and the extreme elegance of his line work, make his visions graphically wondrous. The eccentric dialogue is delivered in a dreamy deadpan, and often appears to be hastily jammed into tiny word balloons that can scarcely contain it. A typical line: "Whoever named this place Befuddle Hall knew his business! I am certainly befuddled."
The strips, along with most of the rest of McCay's works, fell into the public domain in most of the world on January 1, 2005, 70 years after McCay's death (see Copyright and the EU's Directive harmonizing the term of copyright protection for details). All of the works published before 1923 are in the public domain in the United States. The complete set of Little Nemo strips is available in a single volume from Taschen: Little Nemo 1905-1914 (ISBN10 3-8228-6300-9), leaving out only the later revival from the 1920s, which is still under copyright in the U.S.
110 of the most famous strips have been reprinted in their original size and colors in the 2005 collection Little Nemo in Slumberland, So Many Splendid Sundays (ISBN13 978-0976888598), a 16x21 inch hardcover book from Sunday Press Books.
In spring 2007, an operatic adaptation of the comic strip was announced to be presented in spring 2009 by the Sarasota Opera, composed by the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Ned Rorem. He announced on July 20, 2008 that he would not be able to complete it, and the Opera announced that it expects a different version by another composer to be ready for a production during the 2010 season.
In 1984, John Boorman and Arnaud Sélignac produced and directed a film called Nemo or Dream One starring Jason Connery, Harvey Keitel and Carole Bouquet. It involves a little boy called Nemo who also wears pajamas and travels to a fantasy world, but otherwise the connection to McCay's strip is a loose one. In this film the fantasy world is a dark and dismal beach, and Nemo encounters characters from other works of fiction rather than those from the original strip. Instead of Flip or the Princess, Nemo meets Zorro, Alice, and Jules Verne's Nautilus (which was led by Captain Nemo) (see IMDB entry).
An animated feature film entitled Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland (known simply as "Nemo" in Japan) was finally released in Japan in July 1989 and in the US on August 21, 1992. It was directed by Masami Hata, Masanori Hata and William T. Hurtz from a screenplay by Chris Columbus and Richard Outten. Originally conceived in 1982, this Japanese-American co-production had a long and tumultuous history which included a 1984 pilot by Ghibli director Yoshifumi Kondō. Though regarded as a commercial failure in the States, it nevertheless went on to be nominated for and won several industry awards for its brilliant animation quality. The film was released on DVD in October 2004, and quickly went out of print the following year.
Throughout the years, various pieces of Little Nemo merchandise have been produced. In 1941, Rand, McNally & Co. published a Little Nemo children's storybook. Little Nemo in Slumberland in 3-D was released by Blackthorne Publishing in 1987; this reprinted Little Nemo issues with 3-D glasses. A set of 30 Little Nemo postcards was available through Stewart Tabori & Chang in 1996. In 1993, as promotion for the 1989 animated film, Hemdale produced a Collector's Set which includes a VHS movie, illustrated storybook, and cassette soundtrack. In 2001, Dark Horse Comics released a Little Nemo statue and tin lunchbox.
The character and themes from the comic strip Little Nemo were used in a song "Scenes From a Night's Dream" written by Phil Collins and Tony Banks of the popular rock group Genesis in their 1978 recording, ...And Then There Were Three.
In children's literature, Maurice Sendak has said that this strip inspired his book In the Night Kitchen, and William Joyce included several elements from Little Nemo in his children's book Santa Calls, including appearances by Flip and the walking bed.
In 1984, Italian comic artist Vittorio Giardino started producing a number of few-page stories under the title Little Ego, a parodic adaptation of Little Nemo, in the shape of erotic comics. Although not exactly suitable for children (far away from being regarded as pornographic though), Giardino's work succeeded in imitating Winsor McCay's exquisite drawing technique, and the level of surrealism was fairly achieved.
In music, the British rock band Genesis recorded a song, "Scenes From a Night's Dream," based on the comic strip. It appears on their 1978 album, ...And Then There Were Three. Also, the music video for the 1989 song "Runnin' Down a Dream" by Tom Petty is in a drawing style reminiscent of McCay's and shows Tom Petty and a character who resembles Flip traveling through Slumberland. There are references to over a dozen pages of the comic strip in the video.
Don Rosa's 1996 story A Matter of Some Gravity is inspired by some 1908 Little Nemo strips where Nemo experiences horizontal gravity. The webcomic Narbonic also featured several filler pastiche stories of Little Nemo, including the last strip of the series. Many of these proved to contain secrets which would only come out in the main comic later.
In the book Fragile Things by best-selling author, Neil Gaiman, it is noted that the original title of the collection of short stories and poems was to be These People Ought To Know Who We Are and Tell That We Are Here after a word balloon in a panel from a Little Nemo Sunday page. Although the book title did not retain this name, a reproduction of the panel can be seen within the first few pages.
In A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, Neil and Nancy go to a bar named Little Nemo's to find Nancy's father.