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Winsor McCay, for those that don't know the name, was a comic strip author in the early twentieth century. While reading up on him, what I found in the Wikipedia is typical. It states all the many, many artists and writers he's influenced through the years (including Maurice Sendak, for example), but I can't find references to what his inspirations and influences were.

Both Little Nemo and Dreams of a Rarebit Fiend were stories about dreams. (Little Nemo was originally in Little Nemo in Slumberland and later in In the Land of Wonderful Dreams.) Little Nemo fell asleep each night and went on an adventure and awoke the next morning. The later was about the phantasmagoric nightmares of people after eating Welsh rabbit (rarebit) or other unusual dishes. Both strips were quite fantastical and Little Nemo, especially, visited some amazing fantasy settings in dreamland and McCay experimented with interesting arrangements of the panels in his strip.

While it's easy to find out who claims to have been inspired or influenced by McCay, I've wondered for years what inspired and influenced him. Is there any record of what influenced his work with Little Nemo or Dreams of a Rarebit Fiend?

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    No proof on this, so it's not an answer, but I'm guessing Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (published 5 years before he was born) influenced Winsor McCay a bit
    – thedaian
    Jan 26 '12 at 15:04
  • @thedaian: That's a good point and very likely.
    – Tango
    Jan 26 '12 at 18:51
  • In accordance with meta and the dictates of cautious editing, I rolled back the edits and wrote my own answer. I also found some additional information.
    – Adamant
    Sep 22 '16 at 22:40
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+100

A possible influence is Jacques-Marie Gaston Onfray de Bréville, known as Job.1 Here is “Un rêve agité,” a work that may have inspired McCay:

enter image description here

In particular, as discussed here, there are significant compositional and thematic similarities between “Un rêve agité,” or “An restless dream,” and Little Nemo. Here’s “Little Nemo in Slumberland”:

enter image description here

Here is a side-by-side comparison of the two works:

enter image description here

Articles elsewhere on the same site claim to have found other similarities between certain other of Job and McCay’s works:

enter image description here enter image description here

This is far more uncertain, though, since it relies on the supposition that the author of the first work, who went by the pseudonym Rip, was in fact the same as Job. Nonetheless, such similarities, if they indeed indicate that Rip inspired McCay, still indicate that McCay was familiar with Imagerie Quantin, the same publishing house that released “Un rêve agité.”

How might McCay have become acquainted with de Bréville’s work? As the linked article speculates:

Peut-être que la maison d’édition faisait partie de la délégation française lors de l’exposition universelle de Chicago en 1893, évènement si inspirateur pour McCay?

In translation:

Could it be that the publishing house was part of the French delegation to the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, an event that inspired McCay?

The article here alludes to the references to the Columbia Exhibition that have been recognized in McCay’s work.

Credit to Eric-Jan Scharlee’s answer here for the first picture and the name of the artist.

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  • Well, since I did a bounty and it expired, SE is forcing me to do a bounty for at least 100 points. Okay - do me a favor and ping me in a day or so to remind me to award it. I'm quite involved making a LONG driveway right now, so it's easy for me to forget things!
    – Tango
    Sep 24 '16 at 3:45
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Jacques-Marie Gaston Onfray de Bréville, Job (1858-1931) enter image description here

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  • This could use some context. Are you saying that this is a separate work by Jacques-Marie Gaston Onfray de Bréville, or that Jacques-Marie illustrated McCay’s works, or something else? In addition, since most people on this site are probably not fluent in French, an English explanation/translation of the comic could be very helpful.
    – Adamant
    Sep 11 '16 at 20:27
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    This does seem to be by de Bréville. But could you explain why this seems a likely inspiration for Little Nemo?
    – Adamant
    Sep 11 '16 at 20:34
  • I’ve edited your post to explain the salient similarities between the two works. It’s perhaps worth mentioning that McCay left Chicago before the Columbia Exhibition, though for all I know he might have attended.
    – Adamant
    Sep 11 '16 at 20:58
  • I found myself torn when reading this answer, since it is an excellent answer, but I don't feel it's an "overall" answer like the one currently selected. I do think, though, it provides important information, so I've created a 50 point bounty. I cannot award it for 24 more hours, but I'll award it to this question. (If I don't get around to it in 36 hours or so, ping me in chat or tag me in a comment here so I remember to do it.) Thank you for the good work on this one.
    – Tango
    Sep 13 '16 at 5:50
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There's a pretty comprehensive (albeit short) biography of Winsor McCay here. It identifies his early work as an artist in a penny booth at a local "Dime museums" (as a caricaturist) and afterwards his work as an graphics artist for the National Printing Company of Chicago, specialising in producing handouts and posters for circuses.

He also worked as a billboard and sign painter before securing regular employment as a cartoonist and reporter for the Cincinnati Commercial Tribune. In 1903 he produced sort of experimental comic strip entitled "Tales of The Jungle Imps by Felix Fiddle" which are described as being "based on poems by George Chester"

The wikipedia article for "Dream of a Rarebit fiend" suggests his primary influences were;

Edward Lear's popular "The Book of Nonsense" (1870), Gelett Burgess' "The Burgess Nonsense Book" (1901), Lewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" (particularly the pool of tears scene, which seems related to the flood of sweat in one early Rarebit Fiend strip), and a variety of dream cartoons and illustrations that appeared in various periodicals with which McCay was likely familiar.

What was the most probable immediate influence on the strip was Welsh Rarebit Tales (1902) by Harle Oren Cummins. This collection of 15 science fiction stories were inspired, according to Cummins, by nightmares brought on by eating Welsh Rarebit and lobster—making further likely the influence, as several post-Herald strips from 1911 and 1912 were titled "Dream of a Lobster Fiend".

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  • Note to those finding this answer: Please also look at this answer for additional details. (That is currently the only other answer.)
    – Tango
    Sep 13 '16 at 5:46
  • @Valorum - Done.
    – Adamant
    Sep 22 '16 at 22:40

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