Wednesday, October 31, 2012
Obscurity of the Day, Halloween Edition: The Woozlebeasts
The cartoonist of The Woozlebeasts was John Prentiss Benson, who later made a name for himself as a painter of marine subjects. And we can certainly see in the artwork of The Woozlebeasts that the gent had a vivid imagination, and a gift for translating that to paper. The problem, unfortunately, is that his skill as a wordsmith is nowhere as great as his skill as an artist. The verses, obviously inspired by the nonsense poetry of Edward Lear, are fumbling, bumbling, pointless and klunky. They are indeed nonsensical, but not in a clever way. Just as Bob Dylan inspired a generation of excruciatingly bad poetry in rock lyrics by lesser hands, Edward Lear inspired a whole generation to think that they, too, could be witty and waggish, and Benson is one of those afflicted. It seems such a waste -- if he'd brought a good writer on board to offer more picturesque reflections on his superb creatures, The Woozlebeasts might well still be read and enjoyed today as a classic.
That, of course, is just my opinion. His work was evidently popular enough at the time that a book of the cartoons was published, and Benson even got to eulogize his own strip when it ended after a six month run in the New York Herald, June 5 1904 to January 1 1905. Today there are still those who like it a lot, and in fact you can read much of the run here if you have a mind to.
John Prentiss Benson, for better or worse, never followed up on The Woozlebeasts, his only known foray into the newspaper Sunday comics section. He did well enough as an architect, though, that later in life he was able to devote himself to painting, leaving a substantial legacy in an artistic genre that obviously was a better fit for him anyway.