Gertie the Dinosaur: The Mother of all Cartoon Characters (1914)

The artist and car­toon pio­neer Win­sor McCay (1869?-1934) did not make the world’s first ani­mat­ed film. That dis­tinc­tion goes to Emile Cohl and his 76-sec­ond long Fan­tas­magorie (1908). But McK­ay, who was also the author of the pop­u­lar week­ly Lit­tle Nemo com­ic strips, made a con­tri­bu­tion to car­toons that is arguably even more impor­tant.

Sweet, mis­chie­vous Ger­tie, with her ready tears, excitable nature, and com­plete inabil­i­ty to miss a chance to get her­self in trou­ble, is wide­ly cred­it­ed as the first char­ac­ter cre­at­ed specif­i­cal­ly for ani­ma­tion, and the first to demon­strate a per­son­al­i­ty all of her own. Mick­ey Mouse, Bugs Bun­ny, Bam­bi, even Wall‑e… they all owe a debt to Ger­tie, the first of the line. One sus­pects the artist knew exact­ly what he was doing when he chose to draw her as an ani­mal that is also our com­mon ances­tor.

The fetch­ing bron­tosaurus may have been one of McCay’s most famous cre­ations, but there was mag­ic in every film he made. Be sure to check out How a Mos­qui­to Oper­ates (1912), The Sink­ing of the Lusi­ta­nia (1921), and his brief but mag­nif­i­cent The Cen­taurs (1921). You can find them all in our Free Movie col­lec­tion.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Ear­ly Exper­i­ments in Col­or Film (1895–1935)

How Walt Dis­ney Car­toons are Made

The Beau­ty of Pixar

Sheer­ly Avni is a San Fran­cis­co-based arts and cul­ture writer. Her work has appeared in Salon, LA Week­ly, Moth­er Jones, and many oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. You can fol­low her on twit­ter at @sheerly.

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