Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Dreaming with Little Nemo

One of the things I hoped to do from the beginning with this blog is to offer the occasional interview with writers, artists, creators, editors and publishers of interest. I’m happy to kick off this occasional feature (which will be archived on the website, once that’s up and running) with publisher Peter Maresca, who brought to market one of the greatest surprises of 2005.

Peter Maresca has published one of the most exquisite books I’ve ever laid eyes or hands upon. Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland: So Many Splendid Sundays! is a wellspring of wonder, a roadmap of revelations, and as generous and eye/mind/heart-expanding a collection of McCay art as can be imagined. In an era in which comics and graphic novels have expanded the parameters of this remarkable (and still relatively fresh) artform, it’s even more astounding to steep oneself in all that Winsor McCay accomplished in the medium a full century ago. McCay was a prolific prodigy, a visionary worthy of the term -- and Peter Maresca has resurrected McCay’s most celebrated creation in a format worthy of its imaginative scope and expansive canvas.

I’ve praised the book here before, but it seemed timely to offer an interview with Peter, if only to prompt a few more of you to seek out a copy for yourselves (or for those deserving of such a glorious Christmas gift). There aren’t many books worth a $100+ price tag, but rest assured that Peter’s collected Little Nemo tome is one of that select number. Peter is humble as ever about his part in this production, but he is deserving of all due attention.

Without further ado, here’s Peter:

The Little Nemo book is a revelation, on many levels. Let’s talk about it a bit -- what led to your bringing this full-sized collection to print?

It was something I had thought about for years (others had as well, I am sure), but the 100th anniversary felt like a time to make it happen. Given the fragility of aging newsprint, it will soon be impossible to see these masterpieces in their original form, so it's important to have a reasonable facsimile. I had the collection, and some time, so I started shopping the idea around to publishers. When they were too cautious to take it on, I found some money to invest and, thanks to support and assistance from others, I took on the task of self-publishing.

I doubt if anyone has spent the time with, or given the attention to, McCay’s art on the level you must have. What did you discover about the work itself in the process -- and I must ask, did it impact upon your dreams?

I've always had pretty wild dreams, a condition that gave me a connection with Nemo from the first time I saw the strip. Once diving into the project, the reality was far more insane (and frightening) than my dreams. I would urge anyone who is planning their first book to do something small.

You mentioned to me the fragility of the collection -- you wrote it “was dissolving almost before my eyes” -- and I can’t imagine how you would handle such material for the production process. What kind of precautions did you take, and was sort of restoration process was necessary?

I had to construct a scanning station that made for a gentle transition from storage to scans and back again. Many pages received fresh tears as part of the process and minor repairs to the pages themselves were a part of the reproduction. Once I had the digital images, tears and holes could be cleaned up in Photoshop. In a few cases, pieces of the art or text were missing or stained so badly that I had to "play McCay" and redraw parts of backgrounds or words.

The reproductions are state-of-the-art and staggering; the books themselves are hand-bound; what is the physical printing and binding process this Little Nemo collection requires?

Although I was at the plant for the press check -- to adjust and approve the colors of the book pages, I didn't get a chance to witness the binding process. Part of the punching and stitching can be done by machines, but there were no machines to complete the binding, and this had to be done by hand. With careful comparison, you can see that each book is just a bit different in how the pages fit together, but it's remarkable that in the 5,000 copies, I have only come across a handful with any obvious binding

What has the reaction been to the Little Nemo book -- response from buyers and readers, and sales-wise?

The response has been overwhelming one of gratitude, often before ever seeing the book. Apparently there has been an ongoing desire on the part of the thousands of Nemo fans to be able to see these pages full size. Even with the steady stream of superlatives about the appearance artwork, for which I am given more credit than I deserve relative to the work itself, the overwhelming response has been: Thank you. Thank you for doing this. The sales have been a surprise, to say the least. Not that we were able to sell all the books, but that it would happen so quickly.

Is there a second Little Nemo collection in the offing, or another comparable future project you care to mention?

I'm not sure about a second Nemo book. Most of the best ones have already been printed here. Of course, with McCay, you're talking about the fantastic, superb artwork vs. the merely terrific and great, so there may be another book's worth to be printed. My immediate project involves reprinting other great comics from the first two decades of the art form.

You mentioned to me your work with Dan Nadel on his upcoming book, The Underground That Wasn't: An Anthology of Unknown Comic Visionaries, 1900-1970 (due from Harry N. Abrams in 2006). You said you helped Dan “tracking down examples of some of the lost comic strips.” Did this include excavating material on unknown cartoonists like Frank Johnson, or was your focus elsewhere?

Dan's book features both comic strips and comic books, and it's not so much the "lost" material, but the unsung heroes, those who had a style and innovation that's been under-appreciated over the years. Artists like Verbeek (Upside Downs), Forbell (Naughty Pete), Garret Price (White Boy) and others.

Your article on the early “lost” strips of 1900-1915 in Comic Art Magazine was fascinating. How expansive is your strip collection, and what are among the greatest unsung treasures of the medium, in your mind?

I find the pre-Krazy Kat work of [George] Herriman fascinating, you can see bits of his genius even as he was mimicking other strip artists, his own style evolving in the first decade of the last century. It's also interesting to see the comics work of those who went on to other careers as animators or illustrators, like Dan Smith, or T.E. Powers or F.M. Follett. Some of the real treasures are the full-page, custom-drawn promotional pieces announcing the coming of new comic strips. It was a much bigger deal back then, but of course, it was a major form of mass culture.

You can reach Peter Maresca directly at:

450 Monroe Drive
Palo Alto, CA 94306
fax: (650) 941-7988

You can buy the astounding Little Nemo book direct from Peter at
  • Sunday Press Books

  • Peter says, “The simplest way to order is through the website with a credit card... a check can be mailed with a form on the Web site. Those who feel better about using Amazon.com can buy it there,” but note amazon’s stock of the first edition is limited; Peter has ensured Sunday Press Books should have sufficient stock to service Christmas season orders. But don’t be dragging your feet! Peter adds the second printing is already in production, but the “second printing won't be here until March, so get them now while you can. First printings will likely be more valuable (for those who care about such things).”

    If you can afford to add the Nemo book to your private collection or as a gift for a loved one this season, I urge you to do so now. This is among the top books of the year, and a real treasure for anyone who loves comics, fantasy -- or simply losing oneself in one of the most eye-popping book treats of this or any lifetime.

    (As in the case of all interviews posted here, there's nothing in this for me -- I don't get any direct benefits, there's no kickback for me, not even a free book. I bought my copy. This is an honest-to-goodness from-the-heart recommendation, no strings attached! This interview, as with all material on this blog, is copyright 2005 Stephen R. Bissette; feel free to link to it, but please do not copy it and post it as your own.)