Gustave Verbeek – the upside-down cartoonist

I have in my possession a little book, subtly entitled: FOUR CONFUSING TALES each illustrated by six UP-TURNABLE PICTURES from the incredible TOPSY-TURVY world of GUSTAVE VERBEEK.

It has to be seen to be believed.

This Gustave Verbeck was born in 1867 in Nagasaki, the child of Dutch-American parents. Educated in Japan and Paris, he found fame in the US with a series of comic strips which ran between 1903 and 1905 for the New York Herald (he also found a new name – after an immigration officer misspelt ‘Verbeck’ as ‘Verbeek’ he decided it was easier to just use the new version).

But these were not ordinary comic strips. Every episode of The Upside Downs of Little Lady Lovekins and Old Man Muffaroo consisted of six pictures, each of which also depicted a scene when turned upside down. The reader could view the first half of the story by following the panels in the normal manner, then turn the page upside down for the second half.

Here is an example (click to enlarge).

and flipped….

The central trick was to make Lovekins and Muffaroo upside down versions of each other, but it is impossible to overstate the difficulty involved in Verbeek’s method.

Artists agree that it is tricky enough to make a single picture that, when flipped, represents another completely different scene. Verbeek managed to create six such pictures which told a coherent and funny little story when sequenced. Not only that, but he produced one of these stories every week, to deadline, for sixty-four consecutive weeks. Truly mindboggling.

The mathematician Martin Gardener said that it was impossible that Verbeek could not have been driven mad by the task. In fact, although the upside-down strips stopped with unexplained suddenness in 1905, Verbeek continued as a cartoonist and artist for many years.

All hail, then, Gustave Verbeek. A true Dabbler genius: master of incredibly skillful pointlessness.

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10 thoughts on “Gustave Verbeek – the upside-down cartoonist

    December 7, 2010 at 15:40

    Clever. Very clever. And, of course, utterly pointless which also makes it essential. I’ll have to search Abe for more of this. Thanks Brit.

    Toby Ash
    December 7, 2010 at 15:44

    Terrific post. Skillful pointlessness worth celebrating.

    Toby Ash
    December 7, 2010 at 16:00

    What a genius. Skillful pointlessness worth celebrating. Great post.

    December 7, 2010 at 16:03

    Not totally pointless. When I read The Dabbler’s Blogworld Quiz questions upside down I come up with the same answers as Stan.

  5. Brit
    December 7, 2010 at 16:06

    I reckon he thrashes M C Escher out of sight…

  6. Brit
    December 7, 2010 at 16:07

    (By the way, what was M.C. Escher’s rapping actually like? ho ho)

    December 7, 2010 at 16:13

    Peter: Ah… I now see where I’ve been going wrong. I’ll try reading them the right way up next week.

    December 7, 2010 at 16:21

    It would appear Brit that your accelerating output in “Dabblerleaks” is outpacing Julians.
    guamS, that’s a backwards dragon.

  9. Worm
    December 7, 2010 at 18:21

    brilliant stuff, I imagine the first 20 or so were relatively easy, but the next 44 must have got really really hard

    December 8, 2010 at 08:16

    Extraordinary! And brilliant, though they say there’s a fine line between genius and topsy-turvy..

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