8. How a Mosquito Operates – Winsor McCay

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SUMMARY: A large mosquito feeds persistently on a man as he tries to sleep.

WHY IT’S HERE: Winsor McCay’s follow-up to the popular ‘Little Nemo’ was based on another of his comic strips, ‘Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend’, an inventive strip in which different characters experienced vivid nightmares as a result of eating before bedtime. ‘How a Mosquito Operates’ retains ‘…Rarebit Fiend’s nightmarish imagery as a giant mosquito sucks the blood of a troubled man trying to sleep. The film is often praised for its realism as (although it wears a hat and carries a briefcase) the mosquito’s body expands realistically as it fills with blood, its abdomen bulging rather than its body blowing up like a balloon. But even more noteworthy is McCay’s development of character. He imbues the titular mosquito with traits such as a persistent single-mindedness and greed which, in a very primitive way, mark him out as perhaps animation’s first true ‘character’. While previous animations had given us only glimpses of smiling faces or stiff representations of types, McCay is here experimenting with something deeper. This primitive characterisation would be developed considerably in McCay’s next film ‘Gertie the Dinosaur’, in which he created the first real ‘star’ of animation.

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