November 7, 2007
The Grand Haven Tribune, a West Michigan newspaper, ran an interesting story yesterday. Animation pioneer Winsor McCay was born in the village of Spring Lake, and his earliest drawings date from when he and his family lived there; so the Village Council is mulling erecting a monument to McCay on the former site of Union School, which he had attended.
I love the idea. I'd like to see greater public recognition of the many people who forged this art form aside from Walt Disney. One problem, though: according to the article, the aim appears to be calling Spring Lake "the birthplace of animation," as McCay was animating before Disney. It's true that he was, but as those of us who celebrated animation's centenary last year know, he wasn't the first. (I suppose one could make the case that his films were the first drawn, animated narratives, but that sort of hair-splitting is usually reserved for academics and fans.)
It's hard to say where the misinformation springs from, but the tone of the article suggests that the appeal behind the notion is that McCay's work predates Disney, that Disney "reportedly borrowed techniques" from him, and that, as Spring Lake Village manager Ryan Cotton says, "[t]hey say he didn't make a lot of money like Walt Disney because he was more into the art of it as opposed to the commercial." So what we have here is a mix of hometown pride and supposition, neither of which makes for a great monument. I'd like to see McCay get more recognition, and I like the idea of an annual animation festival to honour him. I just hope that when the council realizes that McCay wasn't the first, and that they're not, in fact, "the birthplace of animation," that they'll still be interested in recognizing his work.