Wednesday, 16 September 2009

293: Terry Gilliam - Quick Henry, the Flit!

By Terry Gilliam
In “Fang” 1962 (the humour magazine of Occidental College, California)
reprinted in "Help", February 1963

“The National Lampoon 1964 High School Yearbook” was written in 1974 at a remove of some 10 years, and was attempting to remember all the jokes of that period, while also layering everything with a retrospective irony.
This cartoon is a contemporary instance of someone having the same idea for a joke. Gilliam uses the most famous version of the insect spray slogan, “Quick, Henry, the flit!”. Attending university in the early 1960s means Gilliam would have been the right age to remember “flit” used as a slang term for a homosexual or effeminate boy.

In the National Lampoon Yearbook the “Flit” joke is used as an insinuation about the "artistic" Forrest Swisher. Here the joke is in the reveal of panel 6. Not merely a sissy, but an out and out homo. One hand is limp and the other clutches a flower, bouffant styled hair, tight trousers (which in another cartoon of the same period Gilliam calls “fag pants”, as did many other people), unmanly crossed leg stance, heavily lidded eyes, and pursed (possibly lipsticked) mouth. The jumper and shirt combination probably meant something at the time too, I suspect (UPDATE: A lengthy piece on homosexuals in "Life" 26 June, 1964, goes on and on about how tight trousers and sweaters are the urban homosexual uniform). Such a homosexual caricature being unexpected (a) in the context of the insect ad, (b) in such a grotty little hovel and (c) in general.

I feel slight discomfort about reprinting something from university days, to give it a pass as sophomore work. This cartoon has been reprinted several times, not just in Monty Python retrospectives, but also in a 1971 collection, “A Century of College Humor”, before Gilliam was famous. Gilliam was aiming at putting out a nearly profession humour magazine in “Fang”, and was trying to establish connections with Harvey Kurtzman as his mentor. So it’s not merely a throwaway item. And it does reflect the attitudes of the time. Gilliam admits to being a very conformist frat-boy type in his early university days. The attitude expressed in this cartoon also possibly explains a few faggy jokes in later issues of Harvey Kurtzman’s “Help!” when Gilliam was assistant editing, as Kurtzman had not shown any interest in jokes in that area previously.

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