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.