The Poetics of Slumberland

The Poetics of Slumberland: Animated Spirits and the Animating Spirit

Scott Bukatman
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Pages: 286
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1pphsz
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  • Book Info
    The Poetics of Slumberland
    Book Description:

    InThe Poetics of Slumberland, Scott Bukatman celebrates play, plasmatic possibility, and the life of images in cartoons, comics, and cinema. Bukatman begins with Winsor McCay'sLittle Nemo in Slumberlandto explore how and why the emerging media of comics and cartoons brilliantly captured a playful, rebellious energy characterized by hyperbolic emotion, physicality, and imagination. The book broadens to consider similar "animated" behaviors in seemingly disparate media-films about Jackson Pollock, Pablo Picasso, and Vincent van Gogh; the musicalMy Fair Ladyand the story of Frankenstein; the slapstick comedies of Jerry Lewis; and contemporary comic superheroes-drawing them all together as the purveyors of embodied utopias of disorder.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95150-1
    Subjects: Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. APPRECIATIONS
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. INTRODUCTION: The Lively, the Playful, and the Animated
    (pp. 1-26)

    Winsor McCay’s comic stripLittle Nemo in Slumberlandran from 1905 to 1914 as a full-page fantasia of brilliant colors and enchanting metamorphoses.¹ The strip’s protagonist, the boy Nemo, leaves the mundane world of reality to sojourn in a land of wonderful dreams, but McCay’s innovative spatiotemporal manipulations also remake the world of the reader, who makes an analogous voyage—albeit a motionless one: drawn into the world of the comics page, with its wondrous transformations and morphing spaces (see, e.g., Plate 1). For the purposes of this book Slumberland is more than just a marvelous world for Nemo and...

  6. Chapter 1 DRAWN AND DISORDERLY
    (pp. 27-76)

    The saga ofLittle Nemo in Slumberlandbegan, very auspiciously, on October 15, 1905, in the pages of the Sunday comics supplement of theNew York Herald.¹ A lovely prose text, all the more impressive for being squeezed in beneath Winsor McCay’s superb illustrations, guides the reader through that first adventure (Plate 6). In this earliest incarnation speech balloons are used minimally (“I wonder what the Oomp will say, Oh!”); the narrative is conveyed by the running (helpfully numbered) captions and the art. The page is masterfully constructed: six tiers, each with a pair of equally sized panels except for...

  7. Chapter 2 THE MOTIONLESS VOYAGE OF LITTLE NEMO
    (pp. 77-105)

    “In one of [Hans Christian] Andersen’s tales,” Walter Benjamin tells us, “there is a picture book that cost ‘half a kingdom.’ In it, everything was alive.” Benjamin faults Andersen for missing one key detail: the inhabitants of that wondrous book step from its pages to greet the child reader; in reality, Benjamin argues, it is thereaderwho crosses the threshold, who “enters into those pages.” That reader “becomes suffused, like a cloud, with the riotous colors of the world of pictures. . . . He overcomes the illusory barrier of the book’s surface and passes through colored textures and...

  8. Chapter 3 LABOR AND ANIMA
    (pp. 106-134)

    In Sergei Eisenstein’s uncompleted essay on the cartoons of Walt Disney—the urtext of animation studies—the filmmaker proclaims that the animated film, such as it existed in its early manifestations, was possessed of a kind of primordial essence. Disney created “on the conceptual level of man not yet shackled by logic, reason, or experience.” Eisenstein referred to a primordialism both as it exists in the mind of the child (“the period when sensuous thought predominates”) and in the fact of human evolution (“man brought back, as it were, to those prestages that were traced out by . . ....

  9. Chapter 4 DISOBEDIENT MACHINES
    (pp. 135-163)

    The preceding chapter emphasized the intimate bond between the animator’s labor and that labor’s product. This chapter will explore the trope of thedisobedient machine—the animated creation that turns its back on its creator to pursue its own agendas, fulfill its own desires, or perhaps just fail in its own way. Such figures enact complex tensions among the termsanimation, automatism, andautonomy, and—as the second part of the chapter will demonstrate—they don’t need to be cartoon characters at all. There are ways in which Eliza Doolittle is to Henry Higgins as Gertie the Dinosaur is to...

  10. Chapter 5 LABOR AND ANIMATEDNESS
    (pp. 164-181)

    Sianne Ngai’s “animatedness” is “the exaggeratedly emotional, hyperexpressive, and even ‘overscrutable’ image of most racially or ethnically marked subjects in American culture,” but, as I hope to have demonstrated by now, it’s a valuable concept in other contexts as well—even beyond the realm of the animated film, as shown by the preceding discussions ofMy Fair Ladyand Jerry Lewis.¹Lust for Life(Vincente Minnelli, 1956) could be said to present Vincent van Gogh as an animated figure who, indeed, suffers for his hyperexpressive overscrutability. Van Gogh, after all, was an artist, and, as we saw in the second...

  11. Chapter 6 PLAYING SUPERHEROES
    (pp. 182-212)

    I’m not sure whether comparing Superman to Little Nemo makes immediate sense or no sense whatsoever. For someone not versed in the world of comics, the comparison would hardly raise an eyebrow—they’re the protagonists of two comics aimed, seemingly by definition, at younger readers. They are both equally a part of “popular culture,” functionally and fundamentally equivalent. But to the comics reader the two might seem—literally—worlds apart. Little Nemo belongs to the Sunday funnies of an earlier day—a comic strip that served as a wondrous showcase for the virtuosity of its creator, but one without a...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 213-238)
  13. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 239-250)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 251-266)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 267-267)