Lost Treasures of the Comics World!
The greatest fantasy comic strips from the earliest days of comics. Feininger, McCay, McManus and more. 150 Sundays 1900-1915

The dawn of the 20th century saw of technological advances that were only dreamed of decades before. One such advance was four-color printing, which brought to life stories inspired by both the technology of the time and the children’s fiction enjoyed by a burgeoning middle class. This confluence brought about a unique genre within a new art form—the Fantasy Comic Strip.

These pages were a Sunday staple for less than two decades, soon replaced by humorous family comics that more closely mirrored the modern society. But from 1900 to 1915, American newspapers offered some of the most fascinating comics ever printed.
And while Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland is known worldwide,
many of the great fantasy comics have virtually vanished — until now.

Presented here in the original size and colors are the complete comics of Lyonel Feininger—
The Kin-der-Kids and Wee Willie Winkie’s World, along with the complete adventures of:
The Explorigator by Henry Grant Dart
Nibsy the Newsboy by George McManus
Naughty Pete by Charles Forbell
plus full-color Dream of the Rarebit Fiend Sundays by Winsor McCay.
With dozens more fantastical Sundays from, John Gruelle, Gustave Verbeek, Herbert Crowley, John R. Neill and others.

156 pages, 16 x 21 inches, $125

Notes on "Giants of the American Comic Strip" by series editor, Peter Maresca

The American comic strip is the first true form of shared popular culture as we know it today. At the time the Yellow Kid arrived in 1896, and the Katzenjammers soon after; the moving picture was still in the nickelodeon stage, and, of course, there was no radio or TV. For the first time, people all around the U.S. were enjoying the same characters and stories at the same time. There were dime novels and sheet music that shared a common place in homes around the world, but nothing so immediate (nor ephemeral) as the comics. Each Sunday morning, families reveled in humor and adventures that reflected the lives and dreams of the burgeoning middle class. Through the following decades, even to the present day, the comics became a source of material for movies, radio, television, and more.

The goal of Sunday Press is to present these classics in their original size and colors—and printing flaws as well—to recreate the original Sunday comics reading experience, which has all but disappeared. With this new anthology series, “Giants of the American Comic Strip,” Sunday press will offer collections of the greatest comics ever to grace the floors of American living rooms.

Our plan was to present these classics in chronological order, with the first collection encompassing all Sunday comics from 1896 to 1915. But, as the selection process began, it quickly became evident that there was too much wonderful material to be placed in a single volume, lest it become an impossibly heavy tome. While looking for a way to separate the period, one form appeared to stand out on its own: the fantasy comics. Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland, presented in two previous Sunday Press volumes, is by far the best known example of comic strip fantasy. But there were many lesser-known greats.

At a time when the comics were new, when formulas and constraints were years away, the creators—a mixture of cartoonists, illustrators and fine artists—were free to let their imaginations soar. With a combined heritage of the 19th century creations of science fiction and children’s stories, the pages collected here represent a unique sub-genre of comics, one that appeared at the dawn of the comic strip, then after not much more than a decade, all but vanished. Gone, but, if we can help it, not forgotten.

From A Tale of Two Continents – Lyonel Feininger by Thierry Smolderen

Lyonel Feininger invented his own version of cubism, rubbed shoulders with Matisse, Gropius, and Kandinsky, and became one of the major painters of the first half of the twentieth century. But before that he was a master in illustration, caricature and, as seen in this book, he took a memorable excursion into the field of comic strips. This is the tale of a man born in America who came of age, chronologically and artistically, in Europe, and lived there most of his adult life. But much of his inspiration came from his childhood days in New York, the sights and sounds of a technological revolution imbedded in the soul of an artist....

In terms of pictorial invention, The Kin-der-Kids has few rivals. A beautiful blend of American pop culture and European avant-guardism, the short, unfinished run of 29 pages is now, for good reason, iconic. Some intriguing similarities between The Kin-der-Kids and George Herriman cartoons published during the same period are worth noting. . .Some early Kin-der-Kids pages, which feature primitive and geometric design, prefigure Krazy Kat lay-outs of later years. . . .

Wee Willie Wiinkie, should be read as a bona fide tutorial in the art of seeing, given by one of the master painters of the 20th century. In it, we’re invited to follow the exchange between the narrator, Uncle Feininger, and Wee Willie, a small boy who has the uncanny ability to transform objects—trees, clouds, houses, rocks, etc.—into anthropomorphic, resonating shapes. It offers precious glimpses into the inner working of Feininger’s artistic mind, and possibly offers one of the most revealing discourses ever attempted on the analogical and figural processes at the core of the modernist revolution.

From Art, Architecture, and Abstraction:Feininger in the Funnies by Art Spiegelman

By 1906, the perpetual tug of war between European aristocratic values and our homegrown "vulgar" culture had already begun to domesticate the raucous slapstick of the first comics: the Yellow Kid's mayhem in a lice-infested slum alley had given way to Buster Brown's mischievous pranks in the prosperous suburbs. When the dignified Chicago Tribune decided to improve its Sunday comic section (and, hopefully, its lagging circulation) it looked to Europe for salvation; hoping to appeal to the paper's large audience of literate German immigrants with a well-printed weekly supplement featuring artists recruited from Germany's highly respected cartoon journals. Feininger, an American of German extraction, living in Berlin and Paris since his teens, seemed especially well-suited to bridging the divide between the old world and new.

Early in the twentieth century, European artists seemed one step less reluctant than their more culturally anxious American peers to go slumming in the "Low" arts. Only a handful of American painters of the period dabbled in cartooning (George Luks' work on the Yellow  Kid comes to mind) but lots of esteemed European modernists —Picasso, Toulouse Lautrec, Gris, Kirchner, Kupka, Grosz, to name just a few—drew cartoons for publication either early in their careers or throughout. Feininger brought the most sophisticated tendencies in painting into the fledgling Funny Pages; his comics are thoroughly informed by the currents of cubism, expressionism and Jugendstijl, as well and evince the fascination for Japanese wood block prints that he shared with many Postimpressionists.

From Airships, Martians and Selenites by Alfredo Castelli

As a result, the launch of the first “real” airship, the Zeppelin LZ1 (July 2, 1900) sparked a wave of enthusiasm. Like Selenites and Martians, airships begun to appear and multiply in the comic pages. Real pioneers of flight like Santos Dumont appeared as cameos in several series; on May 22, 1905 all the characters of the New York American’s Sunday supplement – including Opper’s Maud, Dirks’ The Katzenjammer Kids, and Swinnerton’s Sam – took off in a special issue entitled “Up in the Air”.. . .

Airships, Martians and Selenites were inevitably destined to meet. “We know if the moon is inhabited, or if it is made of cheese? If Mars is inhabited, or if it is breaking down the channels? We know something about the land of Santa Claus, or those where the days are all on July 4? No, we do not know! To address our appalling ignorance, and return to the good old days of Alice in Wonderland, the New York World has decided to do something and here comes the Explorigator.”

From Charles Forbell and Naughty Pete, an Appreciation by Chris Ware

For many years, the most compelling and mysterious page for me in Blackbeard and Sheridan’s Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics was a single rough-cut gem by Charles Forbell titled Naughty Pete. The strip featured a vaguely Little Nemo-esque boy sliding down a long staircase towards the inevitable knockdown of a cheap plaster knockoff Greek statue. Against the green of the walls, the boy is bleached pure white, the parents blood red, and the whole page is surrounded by heavy, clotted black. Something about its blunt, isometric simplicity pressed into the clay of my brain and stuck; I kept turning back to the page almost as often as I flipped between Gasoline Alley, Krazy Kat and Polly and Her Pals, it kept nagging at me as a hint of “what I wanted to try with comics,” whatever that was. . .

Colors, shapes, rhythms and tones shift every page in the service of the gag, always with thoughtfulness and taste. Wedding mint pastels print one week, while flat primaries splat through to subdued washes of brown, orange and blue in the next. The strip's logo lodges in the middle, then down the side, then at the end. Background images shift between the real to the vaguely impressionistic to the non-existent. Interestingly, the introductory advertising (included here, I think for the first time) clarify that the strip was aimed up against Winsor McCay's Little Nemo and Outcault's Buster Brown as a comic feature for both "the children and grownups."

From Just Imagine by Rick Marschall

Fantasy was a component of newspaper cartoons from the start, but burst upon the comic-strip scene as a major thematic preoccupation around 1905. As the newspaper comic strip itself was less than a decade old, this cannot be viewed as a radical departure; the medium was constantly reinventing itself in content, form, and structure. We are tempted to look upon Winsor McCay's Little Nemo in Slumberland and Lyonel Feininger's Wee Willie Winkie's World and think that something new was afoot in the comics world. But everything was new in the Sunday funnies.
As fresh and genuinely innovative as the fantasy strips were, fantasy itself, as a narrative and literary genre, was nothing new. It is almost as if, once cartoonists arrived upon the terra firma of the comic strip's formal architectonics, they felt comfortable enough to construct the traditions of fantasy onto the new foundation – panels, balloons, the signs and symbols of comic-strip expression. Indeed, just like the comic strip itself, fantasy transcends representational art and literary modes: it is a primal force, a basic instinct of humans. . .

All of these factors, ranging from technological innovation to cultural psychology, coalesced around 1895. In America, that is when the comic strip, the motion picture, and the animated cartoon, each assumed its definitive, if early, forms. And Fantasy was to underpin the expressions of each, with determination about a decade subsequent. . .

If the Sunday Funnies were the recreational narcotics of the American family each week, Fantasy strips were the entry drugs. So this book is not just an anthology of great comic strips, many of them unjustly neglected through the years, but also a window into a compelling moment in history whose cultural preoccupations – and diversions – tell us something about American society.

From Perchance to Dream by Rick Marschall

We have comics from the art form's most fertile period, its first couple of decades. Over here, we have the large number of strips with Fantasy themes. They are divided into subtly distinct categories: humorous adventures, fairy tales, children's whimsy and nursery rhymes, talking animals, sprites and mythical creatures, nonsense. And then, over there, a category of strips that seems to dwarf everything else in number. The Dream Strips. . .

The possibility seems thin that Freud and the nascent field of psychology that grappled with dream theory and the interpretation of dreams was known to professional cartoonists of the time. We can rather assume that editors and artists, when Fantasy was suggested as a theme, were attracted to the unrestricted world of dreams; formality was irrelevant and the creative juices could flow. It was a temptation hard to resist. In the pioneer days of the comic strip and their home, the Sunday color newspaper supplements, virtually everything was unrestricted. . .

Dream-premises offered the greatest thematic and artistic freedom, but realization of character and narrative was relatively restrictive in this genre. This seeming anomaly is explained by the exigencies of the comic-strip format – which was at once liberating and demanding. Later strips in, say, the adventure, crime, or detective genres, could leave story-elements to the readers' imaginations: they had to, in many cases. In dream strips, to leave story elements unexplained, or mysterious, or deeply unknown, is to compromise the integrity of the function of most narratives.

Dreams are fragments, and seldom have internal logics, or at least coherent narrative thrusts. A commercial comic strip, however, clearly has a beginning, and must have an ending, even a cliffhanger. Further, the reader is in the unique position of being the audience – dream voyeurs we can consider ourselves – but also totally seeing everything the dreamer sees. This can be a pixilated ambiguity pregnant with nuance, carried to the extreme in Barnaby and Calvin and Hobbes, when readers are never quite sure if we view "reality" or the protagonists' fantasies.