Little Sammy Sneeze: Winsor McCay's anarchic precurson to Little Nemo in Slumberland, now a beautiful, giant book

Little Sammy Sneeze was the initial comic strip by surrealist comics pioneer Winsor McCay, best known for his masterwork "Little Nemo in Slumberland." McKay's strips were gigantic watercolors, taking up huge swathes of space in the newspapers of the 1900s and 1910s (Nemo ran full pages, while Sammy was a half-page). If you've seen these seminal comics reproduced in little comics histories, you haven't seen them at all -- it's not until you get a chance to browse them at their full size that you really understand what made these such classics of the field.

That's just what you get with Sunday Press Books's Little Sammy Sneeze: Complete Color Sunday Comics 1904-1905, a gigantic (11"x16") book with a lay-flat binding that reproduces all the Sammy Sneeze strips at full size, interleaved with McCay's other experimental early works, like The Woozlebeasts (Dr Seuss-esque poetry captions for drawings of fantastical beasties) and Upside-Downs of Little Lady Lovekins and Old Man Muffaroo (comics whose illustrations can be read upside-down or right side up, so that eight panels become sixteen).

But the main attraction are the full color Sammy Sneezes, which all follow the same format: for the first six panels, supercilious grownups conduct a ridiculous or dull conversation or activity while Sammy, a little well-dressed boy, looks on, making pre-sneeze sound-effects ("Um, Eee, Aaa, Aah, Awww, Kah"). In the seventh panel, Sammy sneezes, blowing everything to hell and back. And in the concluding panel, someone kicks Sammy in the pants and shoves him out of the frame.

The strips have the elegant formality of a sonnet, and within each one, there's a little morality play or lesson about the world, and an obsessively elaborated scene of sneezular carnage for comic relief. They're as addictive as popcorn and far more anarchic than Sammy's descendants from Dennis the Menace to Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes.

Like the Little Nemo book, the Sammy Sneeze book is a work of art -- beautifully made, and with a little bonus in the form of a Sammy Sneeze kleenex-box cover for proud display. Little Sammy Sneeze

See also: Gigantic Little Nemo book does justice to the loveliest comic ever


  1. Holy crap. Did anyone else play the Little Nemo game for NES and never realize what it was based off of.

    I know I sure did.

  2. The odd thing is that most comic historians — at least all of the ones I read up through the end of the 80s — considered Little Sammy Sneeze inferior to McCay’s genius because it was so one-note. It was an exercise in “How many different ways can I tell one joke?”

    Now, not quite a century later, one of the more widely hailed web comics is Ryan North’s Dinosaur Comics…for those not in the know, every strip of which uses exactly the same art, and has for hundreds of strips.

    Sometimes you’re so far ahead of the time that no-one can see where you’re headed.

  3. I saw this at the Comic-Con, and it’s presented like the top strip from a newspaper that it was – a bonus is “Hungry Henrietta”, the other great McCay topper, was the back-side strip back then, and that, too, is presented on the reverse pages. Both had a very surreal take on the one-joke comic, and were almost savage in their black humor. Awesome presentation!

  4. This is a truly lovely volume. I hasten to note that Woozlebeasts and the Upside-Downs were not created by McCay, but by J.P. Benson and Gustave Verbeek, respectively. They’re included in this book because they appeared on the reverse of the pages that Sammy Sneeze and Hungry Henrietta were on, a delightful bit of verisimilitude!

    We have examples of the Upside-Downs, Hungry Henrietta, and Sammy Sneeze on Barnacle Press, and I dearly hope that they whet appetites for the full-size, colored versions, because Mr. Maresca’s work deserves a place in every serious comic lover’s library.

  5. “Precursor”, I think, rather than “precurson”.

    But thank you for another magical McCay moment nonetheless!

  6. The one-gag comic page classics … Little Nemo falls out of bed, Krazy Kat gets bopped with a brick, Sammy Sneezes.. Any others?

  7. Yep – This IS a fantastic book! Seeing them bound all together, I found the one-trick gimmick to be compelling rather than off-putting. It’s simple anticipation. You know how it’s going to end… the fun is watching how you get there.

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