Here he is: Jerry, the Lit’lest Bastard. Cruelty in the Pass-Along Pack. This vicious tot graced the comics pages of American papers for decades - he was popular in the first two decades of the 20th century, then brought back for a run in the 40s as well.
The comics are full of cute kids - well, Jerry wasn’t cute. With his empty eyes, his trollish body and oversized feet, there was something wrong about Jerry - especially since he didn’t grow as the years passed. He didn’t appear to have any parents, although he had “aunts” - perhaps a code word for the women who hung around the train station where he worked. He had no skills, no endearing qualities.
So why are we discussing him here? What brought Jerry to the Institute’s attention?
Simple: Jerry on the Job is perhaps the finest example of a flip-take comic you’ll find. The Flip-Take - our name for the phenomenon - consists of a cartoon character getting knocked off their feet by an unexpected development. Sometimes the Flip-Take is accompanied by stars, or some dust. Flip-takes were popular for many years, and endured into the 90s in Peanuts. Schroeder, seated at his piano, frequently did a flip-take. Charlie Brown did one when a fast ball zoomed past. It was a convention of the genre, now dying as the previous generation of cartoonists - men who grew up reading Jerry - retire.
No one - we repeat, no one - did a flip-take like Jerry on the Job. The frequency with which people are blown right out of the cartoon panel is as extraordinary as the banality of the quip that sends them flying. The first time you see a classic Jerry-induced Flip-Take, it looks amusing, and vaguely familiar, the sort of thing you half-remember cartoon characters doing now and then. But as you see it happen again, and again, and again, it starts to look . . . malevolent. You begin to wonder why Jerry is doing this.
We’ve come up with a name for Jerry’s flip-take-inducing quip: the Violently Ordinary Rejoinder. In the next 21 pages, you’ll see large examples of this strip taken from the summer of 1921, illustrating just a few of the twists and turns of the flip-take. The illustrations allow you to get the flavor and “humor” of this influential strip. Be prepared to go back to the good old days of the 1920s - a time of stinky hoboes, shufflin’ servile porters, Chink jokes - and flip-takes for all.