Rarebits and Comic Books

Dream of the Rarebit Fiend

Many years ago, Warrensburg used to have a fine bookstore that carried quite a variety of authors.

Several of my friends worked there, and you could certainly count on any one of them to know something about books.

Now we have Hastings. And today, I walked away from Hastings wondering if the type of bookstore your town supports is a reflection of the people who live there.

“Yes, can you please check to see if you have any essay collections by Gore Vidal?”

“Sure! Is that Ved…no, Vado…no. How do you spell it? What was the first name again?”

We finally located a novel (the only one in the store). Meanwhile my boys were browsing the “toys,” and the youngest came back to tell me a toy said the “F” word.

Oh, boy.

Amazingly, and not too conveniently, I found Christopher Hitchens in three different places — philosophy, religion and biography. So, Hastings has its moments, and if you can corral your children in the children’s section long enough away from the bobble boobies you might find something you like. It certainly has a majestic collection of graphic novels and comic collections.

Ah, what a relief! However, I grudgingly had to pass over a collection with Bernie Wrightson (50 bucks!) and had to control my primitive urges when Frank Miller rolled around. I wanted something different, something unique.

Winsor McCay

I found it. His name was Winsor McCay and it turns out he was one of the most important sequential artists ever. I’m a big R. Crumb and Bill Watterson fan, both being artists from our time. McCay created surreal, trippy comics in the early 1900s. The writing clearly matched the times, with lots of “hey, that’s swell,” and “Cut it out. I say I’ve made one frost that’s enough for me. I’m going to skip out.” But the artwork is otherworldly.

The book I found was “Dream of the Rarebit Fiend: The Saturdays.” It was his comic from 1904-1911 that appeared in the New York Evening Telegram. The back of the book explains that the name of the strip was “based on a one knock joke about consuming Welsh Rarebit, a mildly hallucinogenic food.” Riffing on that, each strip begins with a strange trip and ends with the person waking up from a crazy dream, “Oh! Gracious me! Oh! Oh! What a dream! I shall never eat another rarebit as long as I live.”

Yes, the joke is played out after the first go, but the artwork is phenomenal and the scenes are far out.

Discovering McCay, for me, was like listening to a soul record and picking out the source material for rap songs. That is, it’s easy to see McCay’s influence in popular sequential artists today.

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