The architect, John Prentiss Benson (1865-1947), had always dreamed of becoming an artist like his older brother Frank. In 1905 he lived in Flushing NY with his wife and four children and worked at his architecture firm of Benson and Brockway. He kept a studio in his home where he dabbled with paints, brushes, and canvases. His dabbling in 1904, probably to amuse his children, resulted in The Woozle Beasts (the cover and spine say Woozle Beasts but the title page reads WOOZLEBEASTS: today under the influence of computerese the title would be WoozleBeasts).
On his fifty-sixth birthday in 1921, John received a telegram from brother Frank that read “John, if your are going to paint —PAINT!” And surprisingly, John Prentiss Benson gave up architecture and took up serious painting. He became one of the world’s leading maritime painters with over 500 paintings.
Arthur Deex, author of the preceding blurb, has given in to my insistence and scanned the book, so we are now in a position to offer the largest collection of Woozlebeasts ever published: it includes an almost complete run of the strip as it appeared in newpapers in 1904 (in the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune from 21 August 1904 to 1 January 1905; the New York Herald had started publication on 5 April 1904, according to Allan Holtz’s Stripper Guide) and the 1905 Moffat, Yard & Co. book. Even The Artistic Legacy of John Prentiss Benson. Compiled and edited by Nicholas J. Baker. Sheridan Books, 2003; p. 251, only lists 94 beasts, our index includes 154 as well as three single-panel panoramic cartoons. According to the same source (p. 250) Benson “had a book of original Woozlebeast drawings bound in hard cover and presented to his four children. The inscription written inside the front cover reads as follows: ‘Dedicated to Marjorie, Philip, Gertrude and little Mary – 30 years ago.’ It was signed, ‘John P. Benson, May 13th, 1935.’”
The use of the limerick verse and the careful drawing style clearly differentiate the Woozlebeasts from the average newspaper comic of the period, and place it in the 1904-05 drive to please middle-class readers after the first wave of attacks against the new medium. The short-lived strip would start a minor tradition of depictions of fantastic animals which includes Helen Stilwell’s 1906 Laughable Looloos and Gustave Verbeek‘s The Terrors of the Tiny Tads (28 May 1905-25 October 1914) and The Loony Lyrics of Lulu (17 July 1910-23 October 1910), the latter also using limericks, sometimes written by the readers, to describe invented animals.