McCay was a graphic storyteller from Spring Lake, Michigan, whose imagination, memory recall and quick hand allowed him to excel in the burgeoning turn-of-the-century worlds of cartoon art and later animation, in addition to working routines on the vaudevillian chalk talk circuit. Crowds gathered on the streets just to watch him render advertisements he was hired to illustrate.
The animation techniques McCay developed in his time are still being used today; “additionally, Gertie the Dinosaur” (1914) was the first character created specifically for animation, and she interacted with McCay onstage as part of the live performance he had created.
After ten films and many thousands of cartoon strips (including the celebrated Little Nemo in Slumberland, McCay’s most enduring work, and Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend, his longest running), McCay was hired by William Randoph Hearst in 1911, and his energies were directed primarily to editorial illustrations.
McCay lied about his age because he was self-conscious about the age gap between himself and his wife (they married when she was 14; he, twice her age). He was five feet tall and lived lavishly, followed always by a bodyguard. McCay was an agnostic, a freemason, and taught himself how to play the piano.