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Dinomania: The Lost Art of Winsor McCay, the Secret Origins of King Kong, and the Urge to Destroy New York Review

It’s impossible to understate Winsor McCay’s contributions to both the comic strip and animation. With Dinomania: The Lost Art of Winsor McCay, the Secret Origins of King Kong, and the Urge to Destroy New York, author Ulrich Merkl pays tribute to McCay’s legacy by looking at one of his incomplete works and his overall contribution to the success of dinosaurs in the public eye. Is it good?

Dinomania: The Lost Art of Winsor McCay, the Secret Origins of King Kong, and the Urge to Destroy New York (Fantagraphics Books)

Dinomania Cover

Dinomania: The Lost Art of Winsor McCay, the Secret Origins of King Kong, and the Urge to Destroy New York (hereafter shortened to Dinomania) opens with a brief introduction to Winsor McCay. Ulrich Merkl makes it clear from the beginning that this tome is not a comprehensive biography, providing only a few paragraphs and a timeline of McCay’s life and career.

From there, Merkl drives into the focus of the book, the discovery of lost comic strips by McCay. The find is significant; as Merkel explains, McCay had a habit of discarding his originals if they were no longer profitable to keep and McCay rarely spent time working on something he was not contracted for. The strip, entitled “Dino” is presented in the book in remarkable quality, and though there are pieces missing, it’s remarkable to look at artwork that was almost lost to the world. Merkl expertly uses knowledge of New York City and McCay’s personal life to date the strip, which he concludes to have been made in the final months of McCay’s life.

This dating is one of the more interesting segments of the book, as Ulrich paints a picture not only of McCay’s family, but the developments in New York City that influenced McCay’s artwork. The book also delves into the work relationship between McCay and his son, Robert, and looks at how Winsor McCay’s later works were credited.

Dinomania 001

The result is fascinating. McCay’s son, Robert, created a revival of Winsor’s famous strip, Little Nemo, but the revival was almost entirely retoolings of his father’s work. As Ulrich Merkl delves in, he discovers that some elements of the lost “Dino” strips made it into these pages.

Merkl’s research into the iconography of McCay’s artwork goes beyond the familiar, and Merkl examines how McKay’s artwork, both in animation and print appears to have made its way into 1933’s King Kong. Merkl is careful to make clear that he is not accusing the famous film of shamelessly copying McCay’s work, but rather asserting that McCay’s work helped develop the fascination with dinosaurs in the mind of popular culture that fed into the film. Merkl’s admits that his assertion lacks definitive proof, but he is able to make a compelling argument, and skeptical readers will still find this section fascinating due to the large amount of material presented here.

One of the final pieces of the book looks into McCay’s penchant for causing city-wide destruction in his work. While the information and artwork shown here is intriguing, it often feels like a tangent thread considering the narrower focus the rest of the book possesses.

Is It Good?

Dinomania is a fantastic collection that Winsor McCay fans will truly enjoy. Ulrich Merkl does a great job of preventing the niche material from being overly esoteric and the display of McCay’s works as part of a larger zeitgeist means the volume will appeal to a wider audience than the artwork would on its own. McCay’s artwork is presented beautifully in this volume, with enough space to be enjoyed in as close to its original form as most readers are going to have access to. For fans of McCay and for readers looking to better understand his work, this book will prove an invaluable resource.


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