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It amazes me just how good a Flip Dr. Pill Mell makes.

(From Narbonic. Click on the thumbnail for full sized Oh! Um! Oh! (if you have a subscription to Modern Tales. Otherwise, click on the link for today's Narbonic!)

One of the seminal comic strips in history -- the strip people like me always bring up, whether you want to hear about it or not, dang it -- is Little Nemo in Slumberland by Windsor McKay. Possessed of a sense of the surreal, a sense of wonder, and a terrific sense of humor, McKay's strip brought a real sense of dream logic -- which is to say, no logic at all -- to Nemo's adventures as he slept, with certain guideposts along the way. (A sign or indicator that reads "Wake Up" to end the strip with Nemo, possessing epic bedhead, sitting up after awakening with some pithy comment, for example.)

Well, Shaenon Garrity -- a person I have unhealthy adoration for at the quietest of times -- has captured the pure essence of McKay far far far better than any homage I've ever seen, with today's strip. That includes Neil Gaiman's take on Little Nemo in "The Doll's House" run of Sandman (which while brilliant sacrificed the essence of Little Nemo to make a chilling point about abuse -- and raised a dual symbolism for Jed's capture), and any number of affectionate turns. Garrity understands McKay, and what made Nemo work -- particularly what made the strips work as standalone pieces, even when McKay had continuity.

Through this all -- the Princess pining for her playmate, Flip/Mell's amused taunting, Dave rushing to join his playmate and running into himself in dreams, the awakening scene at the end -- there is that same sense of the surreal, the imagination unleashed. This is a dream. If you don't think these are hard, look at any given television script that includes a dream sequence (all right, excepting Sheridan's dream on Babylon 5, though that was more of a vision), and see how utterly literal they are. The worst one I've ever seen was on an episode of Enterprise, because it absolutely captured what doesn't work in scriptwriter dreams. It featured one of the characters having a meeting with a crewmember who had died, realizing it was a dream, and having a wholly logical and rational conversation before the obligatory "waking up before being forced to admit what they need to admit to make their tortured psyche all better" ending.

That's not how dreams go. Not even lucid ones. That was just a plot point, clumsily written. In seeing it done well here, both in terms of dream logic and in terms of a tribute to Windsor McKay, I find myself just plain happy. Especially when you consider that Dave's conversation with himself is a plot point that does reveal something key about Dave, his feelings towards his work and Helen, and even his Time Travel adventures.

And that's not bad for a Sunday morning, now is it?

EDIT: Looking at it again, Mell looks more like Flip and Dr. Pill kind of mashed together. The hat is all Dr. Pill, but the attitude is all Flip. The cigar is something of a toss up.


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Yup. Shaenon deserves a tasty tasty biscuit for this Sunday. *grin*

No, Mell is always Flip. There was a long sequence of Nemo strips in which Flip wore a hat like that, with WAKE UP written on it, to wake Nemo up. This was during the early period when Nemo would wake up whenever he saw Flip.

I'm a big nerd.

I love your Nemo tributes, Sarge, and have to say that the color work in this week's are just beautiful.

I thought that the four extended dream sequences that comprised the vast majority of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Breathless" were just about perfect. Aside from the constraints of plot that made affected the nature of the dreams (there was, after all, dangerous magic at work, and the dreams were at least loosely linked to each other, as well), they were pretty much pitch-perfect; especially in their use of movement within the dreams.

"I wear the cheese; the cheese does not wear me."

Ray Radlein has made my point; I couldn't help thinking about that Buffy episode (I think the name was actually Restless, i.e. troubled dreams, among other meanings) in reading this post. I've never seen the original Little Nemo material, although it's still easily recognizable through the influence it's had on... virtually everything else, but the idea of dream logic is pretty fascinating. "Restless" is whimsical at times, but it also goes into things like insecurity dreams and the dreams where we cast our friends in irrational roles and even those embarrassing "I dreamed what?" dreams (one of Buffy's friends dreams of Buffy's Mom in lingerie). Anyway, it captures the sense of walking through a door to a completely different space, and accepting the completely impossible as you do when navigating dreams. Not sure if I'd recommend it to those who don't know the characters, because so much of the meaning and enjoyment is in the fact that we know these people, but then again I enjoyed the Narbonic link even though I haven't decided whether I'm going to pay for the archives so I can read that strip and know who everybody is, so... yeah.

What, no remarks about the prophetic nature of these dreams?

I'm curious what you thought of the dream sequence in Twin Peaks (which is the most parodied/referenced dream sequence I can think of)...

(I'm also sitting here as a webcomics writer and thinking "Dream sequences are hard, hm? Sounds like a challenge." But it really sounds like it requires at the very least some planning and ideas of where your plot is going (and has been!) and how to make a dream convey what you want it to...)

Do I get to be the first person who points out that Winsor McKay's name doesn't have a d in it?

Or a K.

The vast majority of references (web based, sadly) I have available to me in Maine, away from most of my book collection, had it as "McKay."

The "d" is just because I'm stupid.

Either way, you guys are right and I'm wrong. Which is really how things have gone today, now that I think about it.

Also, on an "I'm a gaming nerd" note, there was an NES game based on Little Nemo released back in 1990. Kinda strange, becoming animals.

Don't you hate it when people just write in to correct you on your spelling? It's the only thing that'll guarantee conversation on my message board, I tell you what.

My roommate just commented that another TV show that did an excellent job of a dream sequence was Futurama, with "The Sting". Though I won't go into spoilers here, it tied in well and was surreal. The roommate adds that his nightmares go like that, which says more about his twisted psyche than we really need to know...

You know, something I've seen dream sequences used for a lot of the time is the "everything goes to hell" episodes. The writers want to play with dystopia, but have to have everything be all better by the end of the episode—so they make it "all a dream." Oddly, these episodes can often be some of the better ones of the series, if you can ignore the lack of dream logic in the dream sequence; the freedom from the "don't do anything that can't be fixed by the next episode" constraint seems to give the writers an added spark of creativity.

Particular examples I can remember involve, of all things, The Littles, where Dinky has one too many bad pizzas and dreams that those creepy scientists out to capture them succeed—and a Scarecrow episode of Batman: The Animated Series which culminates in a fight between Batman and Bane on the top of a skyscraper while Commissioner Gordon looks on. The Batman episode tells a mighty fine story, but it's one of the more unrealistic dream sequences on record given that the person having the dream died (in the dream) at the beginning of it.

Come to think of it, the Batman animated series has done a good deal with dream sequences, between the Scarecrow and the Mad Hatter...

On the other hand, there have been some rather terrible uses of dream sequences in the past—a certain season of Dallas comes to mind.

Anyway, I think the unrealistic dream sequence is just one of those literary devices that strain suspension of disbelief but can be used for good or ill. Not unlike, say, the first-person story where the narrator somehow manages to remember and reproduce every word of every conversation that happened over the course of the entire book. After all, I can't even remember every exact word of a conversation I had yesterday.

And on the topic of good, surreal dream sequences:


Probably doesn't make too much sense without the context of the story, but the page stands alone pretty well too...

Embarrasingly, the reference I checked did have his name as "McCay" - I just didn't notice, because it wasn't what I was looking for.

I know pointing out spelling errors is petty, but I figured that in this case it needed to be said: after all, if one is going to mention his name at every opportunity, one ought to get his name *right*.
And it was about the only useful thing I could think of to say that hadn't been said already by smarter people than me.

Oh, there's lots more I could mention his name. You have no idea how many opportunities come my way.

But no more. I'm switching to reverently mentioning Crockett Johnson instead. I think I'm spelling Crockett right, at least.

Come to think of it, the Batman animated series has done a good deal with dream sequences, between the Scarecrow and the Mad Hatter...

On the other hand, there was the otherwise excellent animated Batman episode whose plot hinged on Batman's realization that he was dreaming because people aren't able to read in their dreams... the main shortcoming of which was, for me, the fact that I can read in my dreams. In fact, I can't think of anything that I can do while awake that I haven't, at least once, been able to do in a dream.

On the other hand, thanks to that one episode of Batman, whenever I do come across something to read in a dream, my internal observer annoyingly pipes up with a "See! I can read!", which can really derail the plot if I'm not careful.

I can read in dreams, but nobody in my dreams can write. I crack open a book, it's full of semi-random nonsense. And if my attention wanders away from the page for even a moment, the next time I look at it it's different semi-random nonsense.

It makes filling out forms a pain in the neck, let me tell you.

Glad "Restless" has been brought up. That truly is one of the rare examples of a dream sequence that really felt like a dream--particularly the way characters would start walking towards some stated goal and get lost in some completely different plot along the way (like Willow's attempt to reach the stage). There was a little bit of "scripting", neccessary since the entire episode was basically one big dream, but still, it was remarkably well-observed.

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