Gertie, the Dinosaur Who Gave Birth to a Mouse


Friday, June 27, 2014

A cel from Winsor McCay's 1914 animated film 'Gertie the Dinosaur' A cel from Winsor McCay's 1914 animated film Gertie the Dinosaur (Library of Congress)

Winsor McCay drew beautiful and inventive comics for Hearst papers around the turn of the 20th century — strips like “Little Nemo” and “Dream of the Rarebit Fiend” that still seem fresh today. But McCay grew restless and wanted to bust out of his paneled existence. So he dove into a medium that was only just being invented: animated cartoons.

McCay started by animating characters from his strips like Little Nemo, but in 1914 he introduced something new: an original cartoon character — a shy brontosaurus named Gertie. McCay would stand next to the screen and interact with his cartoon, coaxing her to come out of her cave and do tricks. “There were no real movie theaters, so it was part of vaudeville,” explains Art Spiegelman, the cartoonist and McCay fan. Gertie was rendered as a simple line drawing, but expressive and sophisticated, and was an influence on Walt Disney when he took up animation a few years later.

For Winsor McCay, comics and cartoons weren’t cheap entertainment: they were new art forms. He became disillusioned with the commercialization of cartoons that came after Gertie. Late in his career, at a dinner to honor him, he gave the younger generation of animators a piece of his mind. “He went off on a rant,” Spiegelman says. “‘This has just been turned into a business, and it was always meant to be an art.’ He was rather excoriating of the people who had let that happen.”

Video: "Gertie the Dinosaur"
This version of the film played at nickelodeons, without Winsor McCay's participation (as in the vaudeville version).


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Art Spiegelman

Produced by:

Eric Molinsky

Comments [1]

Shelli Brosh

This is exquisite. Winsor McCay was a genius yet his name and work are not well known, unjustifiably. Thank you for putting another spotlight on him. There was an exhibit of his work at the Newark Museum a few years back as part of a retrospective on Cartoon/Comic Art that took place simultaneously at MOMA (?)as well. The endeavor to give Cartooning it's rightful place in the pantheon of "The Arts" is still ongoing. The fact that cartooning demands both visual and word artistry should make it a "no-brainer" for admiration and honoring of the skills involved. Thanks to Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly for being on the forefront of that endeavor.

Jun. 27 2014 12:12 PM

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