Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland comic strip from 1905. Image from Wikimedia Commons.
In 1905, Winsor McCay created the comic strip, Little Nemo in Slumberland, the story of a young boy and his ferocious adventures in a dream world. The cartoon ran for a decade in the New York American newspapers, and later inspired the wonderful world of Walt Disney. In 2011, over a century later, the artwork is being revived, brought to life as an adapted video animation for musician Jascha Hoffman’s new song, “Some Hungry Guy,” a single from his independent release, A Cure For Sleep. An imaginative creation of Hoffman and New York-based video director Ben Harrison, the video is a pastiche of storylines from the journeys of Little Nemo, put together to embody Hoffman’s lyrical tale of searching for the missing components of life and interposed with his own visage.
An ode to McCay’s themes and visual expertise, the video for “Some Hungry Guy” embraces the main character’s grievances in his sleep as an extension of Hoffman’s spiritual inquisition.
“The idea started with the music and bubbled up into words,” explains Hoffman, a singer/songwriter and journalist based in San Francisco. “I don’t always have a critical handle on the meaning, so in the end, it’s about listening and reacting…The song to me is about how there’s so much danger and hostility in the world and how strange it is we are able to survive…There’s definitely a spiritual element to it as well. Essentially, the chorus questions whether there’s someone up there calling the shots, and whether or not they know what they’re doing.”
Hoffman considers the lyrics of “Some Hungry Guy” more like a poem, a collection of anecdotes unified by the repetition of its refrain and thematic notion of an overarching metaphorical cavity. In the song, he contemplates personal rebukes, misunderstandings and the endless search for purpose.
The video begins in a state of meditation. Notes Hoffman, “Basically, Little Nemo has these nightmares where ordinary situations develop into menacing circumstances. I think in real life he’s suffering from indigestion or something trivial, but the dream becomes this constant threat of fires or floods or beasts…Disasters beset the boy.”
“Some Hungry Guy” mulls over the consequences of our actions, interpreting parallels between waking life and dreamland—an aptly suited record to accompany McCay’s illustrations.
To create the video, Harrison took a collection of the late artist’s drawings, which Hoffman had previously archived, and developed them into a narrative adaptation based on the internal logic of the song. After cutting the sketches into a series of panels merged into sequential progression, Harrison filmed Hoffman’s face over greenscreen, and inserted his facial composite into the cartoon as Little Nemo.
“We really wanted to use the Winsor McCay artwork and this was the most interesting way to do it,” explains Harrison. “Jascha has always been fascinated with dreams and incorporating them into his music. I think he’s drawn a lot of inspiration from McCay, so the tone of the artwork was perfect. The fact that it’s in the public domain made it a no-brainer to try to use it for a video…Technically speaking, the hardest part was taking the original artwork and separating it out into layers so that the world could have some depth and movement to it.”
Harrison primarily used Adobe Aftereffects and Photoshop to create the imagery, dropping the final cut into a video editing program to synch with the music. The result is an itinerant simulation of McCay’s sketches, set to the rhythm and premise of the song.
Formerly writing songs just as a hobby, Hoffman only recently decided to pursue music as a career and currently is at work on his second album, The Future Limited. His focus is on songwriting and marketing, learning the ropes of his trade and creating a process to make music and build an audience. The video for “Some Hungry Guy” will be released in August, providing visual foundation to the more theoretical nature of his work. Admittedly, Hoffman leaves conceptual understanding of the piece up for interpretation.
“In the end, he [Little Nemo] could have made the choice to wake up from his dream, but he’s rescued instead by this angel with a scythe,” observes Hoffman. “You don’t know if it’s the Angel of Death or his guardian angel.”
The video’s ending makes for an open-ended prophecy, much like human existence, and a fitting conclusion to the animated voyage embarked upon in the video.
“One thing I learned in this process is that McCay was one of the earliest experimenters with the concept of animation, and while I can’t pretend to be in the same league as he was, I think there’s something cool about giving motion to some of his still artwork using modern animation techniques,” adds Harrison.
Furthermore, as the director notes, the video expresses the longstanding philosophical will to comprehend God and life from a modern standpoint. Though little is offered for resolution in Little Nemo’s dream, much is contemplated and explored. The same could be said of Hoffman’s own venture with “Some Hungry Guy.”