Sunday Press continues its landmark series of classic American comic strip reprints with this huge sampler of fantasy strips from the first two decades of the 20th century. The best material, by Lyonel Feininger and Winsor McCay, appearing at the opening and closing sections of this book, bookends a varied selection of short-lived fantasy strips and sample episodes created by illustrators famous both in and out of the comic strip genre.
The star attraction of the book is Lyonel Feininger's foray into comic strips in 1906, which resulted in the rollicking "Kin-Der-Kids" and the moody and atmospheric "Wee Willie Winkie's World." art spiegleman reminds us that the "Kin-Der-Kids" storyline was "nothing to write home about," but the same could be said of Little Nemo's endless quest to be united with the vapid Princess of Slumberland. It's the story arcs and vignettes that make the strip memorable. Actually, Feininger's characters become more complex in design and character as the strip reaches its abrupt termination. The only consolation is that the concurrent (and briefly succeeding) Feininger strip, "Wee Willie Winkie's World," is a masterpiece of anthropomorphism and mood and stands as Expressionist illustration converted into poetry. The 21 X 14 dimensions of this volume, along with the reproduction of the original coloring, finally do justice to Feininger's vision and artistry.
Also worth seeing in full size is Harry Grant Dart's "The Explorigator," where the fantastic and beguiling imagery almost compensates for the lack of compelling central characters. Charles Forbel's "Naughty Pete" is more complex than it appears at first sight, and is another revelation within these pages. There are also a couple pages of Winsor McCay's "Jungle Imps" series, rendered in McCay's masterful hand but ruined by the mean-spritedness of its narrative, and George McManus's "Nibsy the Newsboy in Funny Fairyland," a takeoff on "Little Nemo" that is burdened by its stiff and unappealing title character. There are samples of Palmer Cox's "The Brownies" and Johnny Gruelle's didactic but wonderfully rendered "Mr. Twee-Deedle." The book concludes with a selection of Winsor McCay's full page, full color "Dream of the Rarebit Fiend" strips from 1913, episodes that harken back to the more freewheeling days of the "Little Nemo" strip.
The collection is enhanced by essays and introductions from Thierry Smoldren, art spiegelman, Chris Ware, Peter Maresca, and Rick Marschall. Although the quality of the individual strips varies greatly, the overall collection is worth reading and re-reading, and is probably the best collection of strips of this type since Ulrich Merkl's landmark "Dream of a Rarebit Fiend" collection. The best of these strips rank with the finest works of American fantasy fiction, and it's time they received their due recognition.