Godzilla vs. Kong Owes a Debt to a Cartoonist’s ‘Pet’

Big monsters are big business. Just a glance at Godzilla vs. Kong will tell you that. Despite a flyaway script and rather indifferent acting, these two towering kaiju just might star in the first real blockbuster we’ve seen in a year.

Fitting, given how many actual blocks the two of them bust in Hong Kong.

I write more about Godzilla vs. Kong over at my Patheos blog, called Watching God. But here, I want to take a quirkier turn, and let you know that 2021’s “biggest’ stars owe something to what a tiny cartoonist drew 100 years ago.

Winsor McCay stood barely five feet tall. But in the world of cartooning and animation, he was truly a giant. He’s probably best known for his fanciful comic strips, which bridged the gap between a bit of newsprint entertainment and high art. Little Nemo in Slumberland is probably his best-known strip, and cartoonists to this day still marvel at it. 

But McCay was also a pioneer in the world of animation. Gertie the Dinosaur (an animated dino that McCay interacted with on the Vaudeville circuit) is maybe his best-known film. But in 1921, he created a 12-minute movie called Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend: The Pet. Many say that it’s the very first film to feature a gigantic, rampaging, building-crushing monster—only this one’s rather cute.

King Kong is often thought of as the original kaiju (Japanese for “strange creature,” which has come to refer to these massive movie monsters). He first arrived on screen in 1933. Godzilla didn’t show up until 1954.

And while both monsters are pretty long in the teeth these days with lots of film credits under their scales/fur, McCay’s “pet” was the first. And he never even got a sequel. 

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