February 20, 2015

Of Porcupineapples and Umbrellaphants

        Gustave Verbeek (b. Verbeck, 1867-1937) was a cartoonist who created a number of newspaper comic strips in the early 1900s.  Two of his strips in particular, “The Terrors of the Tiny Tads” and “The Loony Lyrics of Lulu” centered almost entirely on fantastical creatures and wordplay, two of my favorite topics.  Actually, most of his strips range from utterly random to downright disturbing, but along the way he came up with a number of amusing and clever creatures.
        Verbeek’s beasties are generally mash-ups made of words that can be blended together, for example the porcupinaeapple and the caribooklet.  I particularly like the vehicles, such as the hippopautomobile and the perambulatortoise.  Some hybrids include fantasy creatures, such as the dragonion, which is heavy on the onion and light on the dragon, and the banjogre.  But of course they’re all completely fantastical.
       However, when I came across “The Terrors of the Tiny Tads,” it was not the first time I’d encountered this sort of blended mash-up creature.  Jack Prelutsky’s  Scranimals, illustrated by Peter Sís, and Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant, illustrated by Carin Berger, are collections of poems about just such hybrid critters, even including a porcupineapple.   (Verbeek had an umbrellaphant, too.)  I wonder whether Prelutsky ever encountered Verbeek’s comic strips, or whether these are simply examples of convergent evolution.  Prelutsky’s poems are definitely 
better - Verbeek’s tend toward rather random gratuitous violence (They are “terrors,” after all) - but both revel in additional puns and wordplay to go along with the fun and funny creatures.
        Perhaps one of the real values of these silly creatures is how they naturally inspire you to think up your own.  Just sitting here this morning I can’t help but start mashing words together and seeing what I get.  So far my favorites are the pelicanopener, hollyhocktopus, artichokapi, clockroach, kumquotter, helicoptermite, and capybureau.  What new and wonderful creatures can you discover?

[Pictures: Porcupineapple, drawing by Gustave Verbeek, 1907;
Fryingpanther, drawing by Verbeek, 1907;
Caribooklet, drawing by Verbeek, 1908 (Images from cartoons.osu.edu);
Hippopautomobile, drawing by Verbeek, 1905;
Banjogre, drawing by Verbeek, 1913;
Umbrellaphant, drawing by Verbeek, 1905 (Images from A Blog of Bosh).]

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