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From 1904-1912, Winsor McCay wrote and drew a funny, strange, and imaginative comic strip called Dream of the Rarebit Fiend, about the surreal nightmares of people who eat food containing cheese. I've always loved reading the episodes that have ran from time to time in various books and magazines, even though they were printed too small.
A wonderful fellow named Ulrich Merkl has collected almost every single known episode of Dream of the Rarebit Fiend and loving compiled them into a monstrously large, boat-anchor heavy book and accompanying DVD. It's limited to 1000 copies, one of which he gave to me. Without a doubt, it's my favorite book of the year.
In addition to the strips, the book includes lots of McCay history. One of my favorite parts shows how scenes from Rarebit Fiend found their way into movies like King Kong, Dumbo, Mary Poppins, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It doesn't matter whether or not the film makers were directly influenced by McCay's work — what's interesting is how much of what McCay did in the early 20th century has become part of our popular culture.
Each episode presented the dream of some poor soul who had the misfortune of partaking of Welsh Rarebit (a melted
cheese toast) before retiring, a decision that resulted in unusual and fantastic dreams. In the last panel, the dreaming victim
awakened, vowing never to partake of Rarebit before bedtime again.
The strip was written and drawn by Winsor McCay (1867-1934), famous for his Little Nemo in Slumberland.
Other than Little Nemo, which was addressed to children, and mainly lived from its spectacular layouts, DREAM OF THE
RAREBIT FIEND focused on the plots, seen from a decidedly adult point of view, and was devoted to adult nightmares
and phobias, making it one of the weirdest, most amazing and shocking comic strips of all times, simply "the most bizarre
newspaper feature in American history" (Jeet Heer).
This book contains
- detailed information about both the life and works of Winsor McCay, as well as the
DREAM OF THE RAREBIT FIEND series
- 369 reproductions of the best DREAM OF THE RAREBIT FIEND episodes, taken from the best available
sources, digitally restored, and reproduced to their original published size, most of them reprinted for the
first time since their original publication a century ago
- 641 additional images (219 in color) illustrating the author's life and work, and the historical and artistic
background to individual DREAM OF THE RAREBIT FIEND episodes
- two articles by comic book historian Alfredo Castelli:
Dream Travelers 1900-1947. Precursors and epigones of Winsor McCay
A dreamer with his feet planted firmly on the ground
- an article by dream worker Jeremy Taylor:
Some archetypal symbolic aspects of DREAM OF THE RAREBIT FIEND
a DVD with
- high resolution scans (8 or 3 MB each) of all 821 episodes known to exist
(including those not reprinted in the book)
- a 600 page WORD file with a catalogue raisonn of all episodes, containing a vast array of information
about the individual episodes, including chronological strip numbering, original publication dates, later reprints,
whereabouts of the original artwork, inspirations used by Winsor McCay, later quotations taken from this strip,
and historical background information, & the complete text of the printed book
- the surviving fragments from McCay's animated film Gertie on Tour (c. 1918-1921)