“Cultivating Dreamfulness”: Fantasy, Longing, and Commodity Culture in the Work of Winsor McCay, 1904-1914


Luce/ACLS Dissertation Fellowships in American Art


Art History


Cartoonist Winsor McCay was celebrated for the skillful draftmanship and inventive design sense he displayed in the comic strips “Little Nemo in Slumberland” (1905-1914) and “Dream of the Rarebit Fiend” (1904-1911). McCay created narratives of anticipation, abundance, and, ultimately, unfulfilled longing. This project demonstrates how McCay’s interest in dream imagery was symptomatic of a cultural preoccupation with fantasy that served to generate consumer desire. McCay’s role as a pioneer of early comics has been documented; yet no existing study situates him with regard to the larger visual culture of the early twentieth century. This dissertation connects McCay's work to relevant children's literature, advertising, architecture, and film in order to interrogate the commercial uses of the fantastic.