THE UPSIDE-DOWNSMedium: Newspaper comics
Appearing in: The New York Herald
First Appeared: 1903
Creator: Gustave Verbeek
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the Rembrandt of the comic strip. If that's the case, then Gustave Verbeek must be comics' M.C. Escher. No other cartoonist has ever so much as approached Escher's stunning imagination, or the meticulous care he put into constructing his maddeningly fascinating images.
Verbeek was the creator of several comics features during the early years of the 20th century, such as Terrors of the Tiny Tads and The Loony Lyrics of Lulu. But as clever and entertaining as those were, his lasting international fame rests on one creation alone — The Upside-Downs, which fans and critics the world over have been talking about for the past century.
Verbeek's protagonists, Little Lady Lovekins and Old Man Muffaroo, each looked exactly like the other, upside-down. When the picture was inverted, Muffaroo's moustache became Lovekins's hair, his hat became her skirt, his toothy smile became her hatband, and vice versa. Aside from Verbeek's idiosyncratic drawing style, the only oddity in their appearance was her hat, with a pair of trailing plumes that corresponded to his legs.
Invertible illustrations weren't quite unique, of course — during the 1890s, cartoonist Peter Newell, who is still remembered for entertaining gimmicks such as The Hole Book and The Slant Book, had published Topsys & Turvys, which consisted of cartoons that depicted entirely different scenes when turned over. It's likely Verbeek's work was strongly influenced by Newell's.
But Verbeek took the concept to new heights. Each week, he would present a 12-panel story about Lovekins and Muffaroo, contained in only six pictures. After reading the first half of the story rightside-up, the reader would turn the page over to read the second. Of course, more than just the central characters were transformed this way. A gnome could become a horse, and a man with a beard could become a squirrel. In one famous story, a huge bird became an island with trees.
The Upside-Downs ran in The New York Herald (Mr. Twee Deedle, Betty) from October 11, 1903 to January 15, 1905. It appeared on Sundays, but was printed in black and white. Several sources say 64 episodes exist, so apparently three weeks were skipped somewhere along the way.
The first reprint edition, containing 25 episodes, was published in 1905 by G.W. Dillingham Co. It is now exceedingly rare. Several more reprints have come out over the years, in various languages, but all are currently out of print. Probably the easiest to find is the 1976 edition (26 episodes, colorized) by Nostalgia Press, which has also brought Flash Gordon, Little Nemo in Slumberland and several other classic comics back into print.
Despite widespread and enduring interest, a complete reprint does not exist.