The Flying House by Winsor McKay, adapted by Bill Plympton

I knew of the early 20th Century American cartoonist Winsor McKay from his Little Nemo strip, which has been collected in books. However, I was less familiar with his other work. “Dream of the Rarebit Fiend was a newspaper comic strip by… McCay which began September 10, 1904. As in McCay’s signature strip, Little Nemo, the strip was made up of bizarre dreams… Rarebit Fiend was printed in the Evening Telegram, a newspaper published by the Herald. For contractual reasons, McCay signed the strip with the pen name ‘Silas’.

“The strip had… a recurring theme: a character would have a nightmare or other bizarre dream, usually after eating a Welsh rarebit (a cheese-on-toast dish). The character would awaken from the dream in the last panel, regretting having eaten the rarebit. The dreams often revealed the darker sides of the dreamers’ psyches… This was in great contrast to the colorful, childlike fantasy dreams in Little Nemo.”

McKay’s 1921 film The Flying House fits into the rarebit category. You can see the first half of it on the right-side panel adjacent to the Wikipedia article. In 2011, animator Bill Plympton restored the film, using Kickstarter to fund the project. The film was colorized, and actors Matthew Modine and Patricia Clarkson provided voices.

The short film is, oddly, timely for a pre-Depression piece. The man says at one point: “I want to pay my debts but I’ll be hanged if I will let those money sharks grab my dough.”

I participated in the Kickstarter and got a copy of the DVD. Plympton and his team first cleaned up the original film, so it’s not scratchy. Then not only did they colorize it, using the palette of McKay’s work, they removed the word balloon but added the music. One can compare the two versions. There are also some extras. Animation critics talk about McKay and the specific work; unfortunately they are credited on the DVD but not on the packaging, so the only one I can mention without looking it up is Leonard Maltin.

I was happy to help something that would not have existed if not for supporters like myself. If you’re interested, you can order it here.
***
Gene Kannenberg Jr notes that this 1989 video of Tom Petty’s Runnin’ Down A Dream was a tribute to “Little Nemo in Slumberland” by Winsor McCay. Odd, too: I like this song (and LOVE the album from which it comes), but I have zero recollection of seeing it before.
***
Speaking of comics-related material, the FantaCon 2013 program is now available on Kindle. I put together the bibliography of FantaCo publications, 1979-1988, which is why I’m listed as an author on the item.

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