Oulipo Week! Found in the Collection: The Upside-Downs of Little Lady Lovekins and Old Man Muffaroo

In anticipation of Matt Madden’s upcoming Oulipo event at the Wexner Center here in Columbus, let’s take a look at one very early pioneer of constrained-comics: Gustave Verbeek.

A little hard to look at but a lot of fun to read, Gustave Verbeek (originally Verbeck until his arrival at Ellis Island) is probably most known for his reversable strip The Upside-Downs of Little Lady Lovekins and Old Man Muffaroo.

Verbeek was of Dutch descent, but born in Nagasaki, Japan in 1867. His father, Guido Verbeck was a missionary for the Reformed Church in America, and later a head of the Tokyo Imperial University. Gustave spent his childhood in Japan, moved to Paris for art school, and eventually to the United States in 1900 for work as an illustrator and cartoonist for Harper’s Magazine, The Saturday Evening Post, and The New York Herald.   The latter was where The Upside-Downs of Little Lady Lovekins and Old Man Muffaroo premiered on May 25th of 1902.

The sample of the comic that is included in this post is considered to be the most well-known (and well-executed) episode of the strip. Here’s how it works:

-Enlarge the first image, and read it with the captions that are underneath the panels

"The Upside Downs of Little Lady Lovekins and Old Man Muffaroo: A Fish Story" (right side up), from The San Francisco Academy of Comic Art Collection, The Ohio State University Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum

-Enlarge the second image (this is when you would be rotating the newspaper upside down) and continue reading the story, reading with the captions that are within the bottom of the panels

“The Upside-Downs of Little Lady Lovekins and Old Man Muffaroo: a Fish Story” (reversed) from The San Francisco Academy of Comic Art Collection

Useful tip: this is how you should see “Little Lady Lovekins”:

Where to focus on Little Lady Lovekins

Although some of Verbeek’s characters take a bit of imagination to visualize, producing a comic that is even vaguely capable of reading in reverse this way is no small undertaking. What’s more, Verbeek was able to pull off one of these every week from 1903-1905! An obvious fan and early pioneer of comics surrealism, Verbeek continued to produce comics that dealt with wordplay and absurdity for the rest of his career, including the strips The Terrors of the Tiny Tads and The Loony Lyrics of Lulu.

Check out more examples of Verbeek’s strips by searching in our Cartoon Image Database!

If you’re in Columbus this weekend, remember to check out two Oulipo events, headed by Matt Madden!

Friday, May 11th, Matt Madden’s talk: Obstacle Course: Oulipo and the Creative Potential of Constraints. 4:30pm, and free!

Saturday, May12th 1pm-4pm: Oulipo Workshop with Matt Madden at the Wexner Center! Advance registration is required and space is limited. Register here.  Call (614) 292-6493 for more info.

Oulipo Week! Found in the Collection: Al Jaffee’s MAD Fold-Ins

In anticipation of Matt Madden’s upcoming Oulipo event at the Wexner Center here in Columbus, we’re highlighting works from our collection this week that display the use of constraints in comics and cartoons. Today, the inimitable Al Jaffee’s original sketches and process drawings from one of his MAD Magazine Fold-Ins!

Al Jaffee original for a MAD magazine fold-in. Note the fold line indicators in blue pencil. From the Mark J. Cohen and Rose Marie McDaniel Collection, The Ohio State University Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum

After it’s inception in 1964, nearly every issue of MAD had one of Al Jaffee’s brilliant fold-in gags incorporated into the magazine. As with all things MAD, the content satirized everything from politicians to parents, internet culture to poor product design. What really drove Jaffee’s genius home though, was the fact that the physical design of the fold-in was a satire in itself. At a time when popular magazines like LIFE and Playboy had high quality, full color centerfold-outs, Jaffee struck up the idea of MAD having a spread that instead folded-in, and was printed in black and white (at least in its earlier years).

The result was a single page depicting a scene like the one seen above in the first image, and a question: “What new form of addiction threatens to enslave our youth?”

The text at the bottom of the page, when fully open, would elaborate further on the spread. As we can see in Jaffee’s preliminary sketches below, our sample says “Perspiring, strung-out junkies conjure up sensational images for parents. They fear any form of compulsive behavior that enslaves their sons and daughters.” As if creating an image that folds into another image isn’t challenging enough, the text of Jaffee’s captions that run along the bottom of the page also folds into itself to spell out the answer. Once folded in, the two sides of the larger image meet to reveal the punchline: “Personal Computers”

Two Al Jaffee original layout sketches for a MAD magazine fold-in, notes and captions included. Mark J. Cohen and Rose Marie McDaniel Collection, The Ohio State University Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum (click to enlarge)

For those not familiar with Jaffee’s fold-ins, the New York Times has created an interactive collection of some of them online that can help you get a better understanding of how they work.

Having created hundreds of these since the 1960s, Jaffee is a true master of working under creative constraints. To find more original artwork from MAD Magazine that we have in our collection at the Cartoon Library, visit our Art Database.

If you’re in Columbus this weekend, remember to check out two Oulipo events, headed by Matt Madden!

Friday, May 11th be sure to attend Matt Madden’s talk: Obstacle Course: Oulipo and the Creative Potential of Constraints. 4:30pm, and free!

Saturday, May12th 1pm-4pm: Oulipo Workshop with Matt Madden at the Wexner Center! Advance registration is required and space is limited. Register here.  Call (614) 292-6493 for more info.

Event Reminder: Matt Madden’s Oulipo Talk and Workshop!

Starting on May 8th and continuing through the weekend, we’ll be celebrating the French literary movement of Oulipo, the practice of making art under creative constraints! The blog updates for that week will feature some amazing work from our collection that exemplifies the unique ways that the principles of Oulipo can be applied to creating comics (Oubapo). But most importantly, the week will culminate in two Oulipo events with Matt Madden cosponsored by the Wexner Center! Be sure not to miss the lecture and unique hands-on workshop, taught by one of the most forward-thinking cartoonists and comics educators out there.

On Friday, May 11th at 4:30pm in the Wexner Center Film and Video Theater: Cartoonist Matt Madden, creator of 99 Ways to Tell a Story: Exercises in Style, talks about his work and how the arbitrary constraints of Oulipo have produced great art in all kinds of media. Do you think you could make a comic where each panel would only show an extreme close-up of a hand? Or where each panel zooms in closer to a single object? A comic that you can read in more than one direction? Many great works of art begin from willfully perverse constraints or rules such as these. Drawing not just from comics but from literature, film, and music—both popular and experimental—Madden describes the lineage of creativity first identified by Oulipo, a French literary group whose name translates loosely to “workshop for potential literature.” More information here. This event was made possible in collaboration with the Wexner Center for the Arts. Free to the public.

On Saturday, May 12th from 1pm-4pm at the Wexner Center: Matt Madden leads a workshop that utilizes the principles of Oulipo, creating cartoons under artistic constraints.  No prior experience is necessary, and materials will be provided. $15 / $12 students and Wexner members. More information here. Advance registration is required and space is limited; call 614-292-6493 for more info.

See you there!