Little Nemo is a comic strip character who appeared in a series of newspaper comics created by Winsor McCay in the early 1900s. In all his appearances, Little Nemo took readers through a strange and fantastical dream world which was striking and surreal enough that Little Nemo strips were still being collected in books and reprinted a century later. Today, Little Nemo is in the public domain, which makes it very easy to find examples of McCay's stories, and to get a taste of the strange world of Little Nemo.
Nemo, of course, is Latin for “Nobody,” and the character primarily served as a vehicle for depictions of strange dream worlds. In the Little Nemo strips, the character has a series of increasingly strange and vivid dreams before being awoken; classically, in the last scene of each strip, an adult is shown scolding Little Nemo for waking the house. In the course of his dreams, Little Nemo meets an assortment of wild and vivid characters and goes on a wide range of adventures, bridging the gap between the real world and the dream world as he flies to the moon, rescues a princess, and adventures over hill and dale.
The first Little Nemo strip appeared in the New York Herald in 1905, with a relatively simple plot: Little Nemo was trying to penetrate the world of Slumberland so that he could rescue a princess. However, he was foiled at every turn by evil characters, not rescuing the princess until 1906, at which point the two went on a series of adventures in Slumberland and met heroes like Morpheus and Santa Claus.
Eventually, McCay was wooed to the New York American, and Little Nemo went with him. At times, the plot of the story was lost entirely, with the focus of the strips becoming the lush visual scenes, rather than any specific story. Little Nemo proved to be a popular character, with adaptations appearing on stage and film, while fans could purchase books, clothing, and other Little Nemo-themed merchandise. In 1913, Little Nemo was retired, only to be restored to the comics pages briefly in the 1920s.
Little Nemo left behind an enduring cultural legacy. The distinct and haunting artwork which accompanied the Little Nemo strips inspired many future comic artists, as did the character himself. The blend of fantasy, surreal landscapes, and heroic characters proved to be a popular theme, and it's one that artists continue to return to in this day.