See also www.dalenbergfilmlibrary.com for The Dream of a Rarebit Fiend, directed by Edwin S. Porter (of The Great Train Robbery fame), the 1906 entry in The Dalenberg Library’s “100 Films, 100 Years.”
Winsor McCay’s comic strip “Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend” appeared from 1904 to 1911 in the Evening Telegram, a sister newspaper to The New York Herald. Pictured here is the cover of a Dover Books facsimile of a 1905 Frederick A. Stokes compilation of the early strips in the series. The original is quite rare, but Dover brings out nice facsimile editions for modern readers who don’t have the means to track down and buy scarce editions.
Best remembered today as an animation pioneer and the author of the classic comic strip “Little Nemo in Slumberland”, Winsor McCay (c.1869-1934) premiered much the same concept as “Little Nemo” in the more adult “Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend.” With each daily strip we are thrown into a surrealistic dream sequence, only to find out in the last frame that the strange events depicted are in the mind of a sleeping character who has gorged on too much Welsh rarebit (a toasted cheese and ale snack) the night before. The “rarebit fiend” wakes up and blames his nightmare on his overindulgence. The “fiend” opines that nobody warned him about the effects of too much Welsh rarebit, OR despite the warning, he ate it anyway and now regrets it, OR a vow is made to never indulge again.
While the premise behind “Little Nemo” and “Rarebit Fiend” are similar, involving a character who falls asleep and has adventures in a dream, “Rarebit Fiend” is more R-rated. In the first few pages of the 1905 compilation, one encounters amputations, nudity, cannibalism, sexual longing, and an alligator purse turning into a woman-eating monster, and more. Apparently the concept of a family-friendly newspaper did not hold sway in 1905. Some of the content of “Rarebit Fiend” would have been more suitable only a few years later to an underground comic.