Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Obscurity of the Day, Halloween Edition: The Woozlebeasts

If you still haven't decided on your Halloween costume, I offer you this selection of fanciful creatures, known as Woozlebeasts, from which to choose. It is guaranteed you will be the only Degust or Botong at the party. The only problem is that once you've explained the origin of your unique costume to your friends and recited the verse, they'll probably all be mystified (and not in a good spooky Halloweeny way) at the point of it all.

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.


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