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Dream of the Rarebit Fiend: The Saturdays    by Winsor McCay order for
Dream of the Rarebit Fiend
by Winsor McCay
Order:  USA  Can
Checker, 2006 (2006)
* * *   Reviewed by Lance Victor Eaton

Considering the classic comic strip artists of the early twentieth century, Winsor McCay certainly makes it onto the pantheon of not just talented artists, but masterful storytellers whose elegant art and sophisticated tales could be presented repeatedly, week after week, year after year. Dream of the Rarebit Fiend: The Saturdays reminds us of how powerful and impressive McCay's work is by giving readers a look at this series which ran from about 1904 to 1911 in the New York Evening Telegram on Saturdays (selections herein run between 1906 and 1911.) These Saturday strips were an enlarged version of the regular daily strips, taking up twice the space.

Included in this collection are over 180 strips by Winsor that exhibit and provoke thought and imagination in readers. The premise of the series is that the main characters in each strip experience crazy and outrageous events that throw them for a loop. However, at the end of every strip, they awake to discover it was a dream, thus being shocked out of their normal sensibilities and being accused of enjoying rarebit - a hallucinogenic food. Akin to the premise of It's a Wonderful Life, the protagonists' experiences are meant to shock them out of their current status or reconsider their ideas. McCay used this gimmick to reflect his own concerns and moral judgments regarding society. That is not to say he is a moralizer in the true sense - many of his strips don't preach but rather give the reader cause to vicariously reflect upon their own vices and excesses.

Overall, the art is simple, yet versatile. McCay's shifting style leads him from using very sophisticated and background-laden panels to ones where the backgrounds are barren. His characters display iconic faces with clothing that denote more often than not a high socioeconomic class. The most problematic aspect of Winsor's art is the lettering. For some of his text-laden panels, sifting through the words can be exacting, especially with some of his busier backgrounds. Of course, this is something that many of the earlier strips face, since they lacked the ability to standardize comic text and wrote it themselves. Additionally, it is a little disappointing that very few extras accompany this collection aside from a brief introduction by Cammie Ledbetter, an associate editor at Checker House Publishing.

McCay's imagination seems to know no bounds. Given the range of his work within this series and elsewhere, it is amazing and a delight to be able to hold the work of such an artist in hand. Comic readers would not be the sole people to benefit from this book.

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