The Upside Down World of Gustave Verbeek

Gustave Verbeek was a Japanese artist of Dutch extraction who reinvented an American art form. He was published in the bafflingly brilliant New York Herald comics section of the turn of the century, alongside folks like Richard Outcault and Winsor McCay. He was a committed adherent to Nonsense techniques — he liked to set impossible constraints for himself and try to wrestle coherent stories out them. He outpaced the Surrealists by twenty years, and devised his own mind-bending comic strip vernacular out of portmanteau, reversal & esoteric cartoon symbolism.

Take a look at this panel from his UPSIDE DOWNS strip.


A fish, an island, and a man in a canoe. Now flip it upside down…


…and it’s a woman being eaten by a bird.

That’s how UPSIDE DOWNS works — six panel strips that read sequentially, which then flip upside down to become panels seven through twelve. The formal challenge of not just creating reversible images but creating images that reverse sequentially into a coherent story is absolutely insane.


Verbeek also created THE TERRORS OF THE TINY TADS, in which his bizarre visual games started with text: he created hybridized beasts out of combined words. Hippopotomobiles, hotelephants, pelicanoes and sweet potatoads capered across these charming nightmares.


Gustave Verbeek was a weird, fractured genius who invented a brand new language in which to tell stories and crack jokes. He would have fit right in to the Parisian salons of the 1920s. His work is gorgeously spotlighted in a elegant clothbound edition from Sunday Press.


He was a relic of a golden moment in the early 20th century when uniquely, almost inexplicably idiosyncratic talents could be seen in the pages of international newspapers, dancing gloriously to their own broken metronomes.

– Josh O’Neill

One thought on “The Upside Down World of Gustave Verbeek

  1. Nice to see more articles about upside-down art. Ever ask “who invented Upside-Down Art?” L. R. Emerson II.

    Today we are finding artists everywhere mimicking the topsy-turvy style of American Artist L. R. Emerson II who started an international movement involving upside-down, multi-directional art. Emerson is credited with inventing Upside-Down Art.

    The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC describes an ancient form of composition known as Dualism, dating from the Preceramic period (3000–1800 B.C.). Artifacts from this period include early woven textiles decorated with zoomorphic creatures paired in inverted symmetries. In dualism, subtly or clearly expressed in art, opposite doubles and mirror images reflect the ancient heritage of symbolic dualism in the ideologies, world visions, and social structures of Andean people.

    Please visit to see the world’s most unusual art, from internationally known American artist L. R. Emerson II.
    Emerson is the leading artist of the Upside-Down Artist movement having produced thirty years of artmaking success and documented invention regarding multi-directional design and compositional arrangement.

    In a recent interview Emerson responded to questions about process versus product saying:
    “Thirty years of working as an upside-down artist, arranging subjects every which way has embedded a formula for composition firmly into my internal, visual psyche. I’m frankly unable to work in a traditional right-side up manner. Stored in my mind thousands, memory holds thousands of my works, – artworks comprised with every unconventional combination of compositional structure yet I believe I still have not even scratched the surface. Whereas there’s a genital form of flattery in the fact of other artists copying my style, at the same interval I keep moving forward, seldom showing my latest discovery.”
    Emerson 2013

    Due to Emerson’s published research and exploration Art Education texts are having to be re-written to include Emerson’s compositional variant; upside-down, multi-directional composition has been validated and stands alone as a worthy from of composing subjects.

    Emerson’s work has been presented to more than 500 galleries in the U.S.A. and to over 50 major museums across the planet.

    His pioneering effort, enduring over three decades to break the glass ceiling of conventional composition sets L. R. Emerson II apart from followers of the Upside-Down movement.
    L. R. Emerson II may very well be the Thomas Edison of artmaking. More information documenting Emerson’s thirty-five unique methods for creating upside down art can be found in the book The Purple Tree; Art in a Boundless Age, 2009. Included in the text are examples of upside-down painting, upside-down drawing methods and more dating back to 1983.
    Mary Arkin

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