The images included are courtesy of Titan Comics and McCay.

Writer Thierry Smolderen and Artist Jean-Philippe Bramanti create a tribute in their half-real biography of the prolific animator and cartoonist Zenas Winsor McCay. Titan Comics gives us a spiffy translation by Edward Gauvin. McCay was best known for his work on his comic Little Nemo and the animated short film Gertie the Dinosaur. In fact, he pioneered many of the animation techniques used today. His artistry in his field was said to be unmatched until the 1920s. 


This graphic novel represents anecdotal truths about Zenas Winsor Mccay’s legacy. While some of these stories are real to an extent, you need to know the creators took some liberties. My favorite liberties included his proposed meeting with mathematician Charles Hinton whose studies focused on the fourth dimension. He said you could imagine it as successive cross-sections of a static four-dimensional arrangement of lines passing through a three-dimensional plane. This information sets you up for the kind of intelligence you need for this story. 

History Lessons Are More Interesting In McCay

While I have no frame of reference for the original language of this graphic novel, the translation didn’t seem, whatsoever, sloppy. The work was top-notch and met my grammatical expectations. I found myself enjoying the dialogue, even during moments of intense exposition. The brisk dialogue, yet quiet patience over each scenario shines through. You feel like you’re attached to this dream-like world. It’s our world, but it takes a unique and different sheen with Smolderden’s writing. There’s a magical quality that shines through the dirtiness of all the sequences. 


While this comment might be strange to make, I saw a bit of Lovecraft in the beginning arc. The good of Lovecraft being the slight paranoia and obsession, while the bad being that this story is a slow-burn. What I questioned after my reading is who the audience would be for this graphic novel. I doubt it will achieve mainstream appeal because of the density and subject matter. I’m okay with this fact. This story dedicates itself to a necessary part of history to the best of its ability. McCay brings out occasions of child-like joy, which is necessary for an artist’s biography.  

Mccay’s Art Looks Like An Extended Political Cartoon

I don’t mean the comment as a diss. Simply, the art style reminds me of the old days. The old days represent themselves in this comic with an aplomb. When the artist’s process takes center stage, you’re in for a treat. The sketches that McCay makes feels like you’re watching a vulnerable moment.
I liked the characters designs because they’re understated and unique.  

You also can’t deny the technical skill that radiates off this 200-page work, which makes the slow-burn easier to swallow. There is nothing boring about how these pages look because the unique era jumps out at you.  On the other hand, this may only mean I’m an old-timey person at heart. 

Titan Comics, 2018

My one complaint might be the coloring because some pages look like muddy watercolor. This decision wasn’t a choice that I thought fit in well for certain scenes. It made characters and the backgrounds blend in together too much because the line art isn’t as defined. 

Who Should Read McCay?

As its greatest strength and its strongest weakness, McCay fits a specific niche. This graphic novel relies on your interest in a historical figure. You also have to want to see how Smolderen and Bramanti have changed McCay’s history. In part to involve the secrets of the fourth dimension in grander detail, the other part being how they can’t exactly know all the details of the life greatest cartoonist of all time.

For a side note, Smolderen’s attention to the broader strokes of McCay’s past, however, is strenuously detailed to the best of his ability. His abilities in historical fact are some of the best if you look up his credentials. 

On the other hand, despite these limitations, McCay is an important figure that deserves respect. Even if you’re uninitiated, you should try a couple pages to see if this piece captures you. This book would go along well with a college comic book. For the less academic, I would recommend picking this up along with an actual biography. It’ll be an exciting look into the history of the animation genre. 

McCay by Thierry Smolderen & Jean-Philippe Bramanti
It's for individuals of a certain taste, but if you're into history than McCay might be up your alley.
Historically Poignant
Political Cartooness is a Cool Style
Snappy Dialogue
May Be Too Much of a Niche Product
Slightly Muddy Coloring
Very Much a Slow-Burn