Gustave Verbeek, Upside-down Cartoonist

Brit’s Dabbler Diary will return next week. In the meantime, here’s a piece discovered deep within the archives about a very unusual 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.

It must be devilish 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.

Share This Post

About Author Profile: Brit