Thursday, 29 October 2009
310: Tales from the Tombs: Behind Gay Bars
“Tales from the Tombs: Behind Gay Bars”
from “National Lampoon” May 1982
written by Michael Reiss and Al Jean.
drawn by Howard Nostrand
Seven years after writing this Reiss and Jean would go on to success writing and producing “The Simpsons”. Mike Reiss is gay, and would write and produce “Queer Duck”, another cartoon that deliberately left no gay stereotype unemployed.
Howard Nostrand had illustrated the horror comics of the 1950s, which this parodies. Nostrand’s style is quite close to Jack Davis’s. Davis largely defined the E.C. horror comic style, and so Nostrand was a clever choice for this piece.
This parody has got the poetic justice aspect of E.C. comics down pat. As well as the dreadful puns.
All the usual straight anxieties about prison rape are made ubiquitously manifest, but the homophobic protagonist is completely oblivious. The strip inverts the idea of “prison gay” since everyone in prison is a willing, voracious homosexual. “Everyone in the World is a homo!” is the ludicrous if natural culmination, but is also one of the historical aspects of anxiety about gays, that undetected homosexuals are everywhere. Which therefore is why bigots prefer their obvious gay stereotypes, since it gives them the illusion of having some social control. As Homer says, "You know me Marge - I like my beer cold, my TV loud and my homosexuals FLAMING!". The joke here being the protagonists can’t even spot his flaming homosexuals.
Here, gay men are obsessed with sex - blowjobs, and sodomy - and crude innuendoes. If it weren’t for the fact that this appeared in “National Lampoon”, and therefore could be assumed to be playing up to its youngish male readership’s own anxieties and assumption, it’s easy to imagine this playing as some cheap trashy spoof on a gay channel without a single gag cut out. The gay characters are drawn maybe a touch too grotesquely, but then again that ties with the horror-comic style. The fundamental assumption being that the gay prisoners are the monsters who will inevitably and rightfully get the protagonist, although they’re also silly monsters since the’rey just sissy, effeminate prison bitches in semi-drag.Of course, there is also an innocence about this, since about another year or so and it would be impossible to do this without the spectre of AIDS looming.
Some jokes about Liza Minnelli, which was possibly pushing their luck since the magazine had had to make a fulsome apology to her only a couple of years earlier.
P.S. A comedy-horror conclusion of sorts
Having just browsed through all the Halloween-y stuff again I’m suddenly struck by how often the fear of sexual assault repeats for for humorous effect. Certainly more than is usual in any other random selection of material. What’s the most horrible thing a homosexual could do? What’s the most unnatural and unreal and therefore comedic thing a homosexual could? Make a sexual move, that’s what.