Until January 2006 none of the original drawings created by McCay had been seen for more than a century. The Ohio State University Cartoon Research Library acquired five of the original hand-colored drawings which comprise this digital album. Unlike other extant examples of McCay's original comic strips, A Tale of the Jungle Imps by Felix Fiddle are hand-colored. Although the reason McCay painted them is unknown, it may be that since this was his first effort at a comic strip, he was unsure how engravers might follow his color instructions and wanted to be sure that his preferences were clear.
Best known for his comic strip Little Nemo in Slumberland, McCay has been described variously as "the first authentic genius in the comic strip medium," "one of American's rare, great fantasists," and a cartoonist for whom there has been "no equal before or since." During the 1890s McCay worked as an artist for the Vine Street Dime Museum and Palace Theater in Cincinnati. In 1900 he joined the staff of the Cincinnati Enquirer as an artist/reporter. In 1903 he created forty-three episodes of A Tale of the Jungle Imps by Felix Fiddle which ran from January 11 to November 9, 1903. These full-page illustrated stories are based on poems written by George Randolph Chester about pixies and the imaginary animals they encounter.
Each episode features Gack, Boo-Boo and Hickey, three imps representing primitive natural forces. The racial stereotypes in A Tale of the Jungle Imps by Felix Fiddle were common in early twentieth century publications. A pattern was followed in each episode: The imps aggressively torment an animal, the animal wants retribution and consult a team of wise monkeys led by Doctor Monk, and transformative surgery is performed to alter the appearance and function of the animal.
Felix Fiddle is a passive observer from civilization with his briefcase and umbrella. He is the composite of the author and artist of the series, Chester and McCay and is named as the creator of each episode, although McCay signed the artwork.
The series may be viewed as a parody of Darwin's theory of evolution, but it is actually more closely related to Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories for Children. McCay's biographer John Canemaker notes the importance of this "proto-comic strip" for McCay's artistic development: "Tales of the Jungle Imps was Winsor McCay's first attempt in an extended series format to bring together all of his eclectic talents in a cohesive graphic style. On each page, he found fresh ways to combine his exquisite draftsmanship, dynamic staging, sense of caricature, mastery of perspective, and feeling for motion with his version of the decorative art nouveau style."