Nov 13, 2014

Alphonse and Gaston: Your Grandfather's Gay Couple

If I was living my last life during the 1890s, as Raphael the Gay Psychic Angel said, I would have been around for the first years of newspaper comic strips: The Yellow Kid, The Katzenjammer Kids, Happy Hooligan, Mutt and Boomer, Moon Mullins, Barney Google, Krazy Kat, Little Nemo.

Unfortunately, nothing from that life leaked over into this one: I find comics from that era incomprehensible.  Even when I can understand the slang, the jokes don't make much sense.  They seem to be mostly about people hitting each other.

But I can certainly understand that Alphonse and Gaston are a gay couple.

The invention of prolific cartoonist Frederick Burr Opper, the two Frenchmen, one tall and one short, first appeared in The New York Journal in 1901, and continued intermittently until 1937.

 Jokes involved them being urbane, sophisticated, and foppish, traits antithetical to the big-shouldered Yankee masculinity of the era.

And over-polite, each graciously refusing to leave before the other as the building burns down or the bull charges at them.

Soon they were having adventures in exotic locales like Africa and the Middle East, refusing to escape from more and more serious life-threatening situations, while their friend Leon looked on in exasperation.

"After you, my dear Alphonse!"  "No, after you, my dear Gaston!" became a popular catchphrase, used endlessly by journalists, political cartoonists, and sports commentators.

They became a staple of Vaudeville and the subject of a stage play, plus several one-minute long comedy shorts (1901-1903).  Only one seems to have survived, but plot synopses suggest that the couple lives and sleeps together.

In 1947, Bob Clampett adopted the characters to the over-polite gophers Mac and Tosh, who are even more obviously portrayed as a gay couple, particularly in their recent incarnation on the Cartoon Network.

See also: The Looney Tunes Show

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