Les Ramoneurs, by Terry Gilliam (Pilote, 1967)
'Les Ramoneurs', from Pilote #426

Terry Gilliam is most famous as the only American member of the British satirical comedy troupe Monty Python. He was the mad brain behind their surrealistic photo collage animated cartoons which often appeared as intermezzos between scenes. Whenever Python had a side-project, Gilliam was the man who provided their posters, covers, sets, costumes and make-up. Besides Monty Python he also started a second career as a highly eccentric film director. Many of his pictures are based on classic fantasy stories or take place in frightening future dystopia. His characters often have to combat the system to be allowed to think and dream their own independent thoughts. Gilliam himself can relate, since many of his pictures have been victim of executive meddling, behind-the-scenes disasters and bad receptions at the box office. Nevertheless, some have become cult classics, including 'Time Bandits' (1981), 'Brazil' (1985), 'The Adventures of Baron Munchhausen' (1989), '12 Monkeys' (1996), 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas' (1998) and 'The Zero Theorem' (2013). While polarizing audiences, Gilliam is still respected as a highly imaginative and original artist. Both his cartoons as well as his live-action films have inspired generations of equally deranged directors and animators. 

Early years
Terry Gilliam was born in 1940 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His father worked as a travelling salesman before settling down as a carpenter. Gilliam had a vivid imagination and creativity from a young age. He loved comedians like The Marx Brothers, Ernie Kovacs, the Goon Show and Spike Milligan, while devouring novelists like Hunter S. Thompson, Philip K. Dick and C.S. Lewis. Among his graphic influences are Walt Disney, Tex Avery, Chuck Jones, Max & Dave Fleischer, Stan Van Der Beek, Karel Zeman, Hieronymus Bosch, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Francisco de Goya, Max Ernst, René Magritte, Gustave Doré, Lewis Carroll, John Tenniel, Robert Crumb, Hergé, Harvey Kurtzman, Jack Davis, Ray Harryhausen, George Dunning and Heinz Edelmann's 'Yellow Submarine' and Eastern European animators such as Walerian Borowczyk, Wladyslaw Starewicz and Jan Švankmajer. In terms of film directors he was strongly influenced by the aforementioned Borowczyk, Orson Welles, Stanley Kubrick, Stanley Donen, Ingmar Bergman, Akira Kurosawa, Luis Buñuel and Federico Fellini. Later in his career he also expressed admiration for the Brothers Quay, John Lasseter, Matt Groening's 'The Simpsons', Trey Parker and Matt Stone's 'South Park' and Seth MacFarlane's 'Family Guy'.

Gilliam studied and graduated in political science at Occidental College in Los Angeles. During the 1960s he drew cartoons and comics. His first work was printed in Fang, a college humor magazine of which he later became an editor. He was also associate editor for Harvey Kurtzman's short-lived satirical magazine Help! and published several comic strips and cartoons there. In a 1964 issue the cartoonist made a photo comic, 'Christopher's Punctured Romance', about a man who falls in love with a Barbie doll. The actor in question was John Cleese, with whom Gilliam would later work together in Monty Python.

'Christopher's Punctured Romance', 1964 starring John Cleese. 

Pilote / CARtoons / SURFtoons
When he first came to Europe, Gilliam provided two short stories to the French magazine Pilote. In issue #331 (24 February 1966) he created a comic strip about a bunch of snowmen titled 'La Bonhomme de Neigeologie'.  A year later he created 'Les Ramoneurs', which was written by Fred, and appeared in issue #426  (21 December 1967). The story revolves around a chimney sweep and a series of misunderstandings he causes among the residents of a flat. Gilliam also provided some comics to Petersen Publishing's magazines CARtoons and SURFtoons, for which Alex Toth also contributed work. In CARtoons Gilliam drew the comic 'My Son Arnold, the Car', which already showed the absurdism and silliness he would later further develop in the Monty Python series.

Animation career
In 1968 Gilliam moved away from comics to animated cartoons. Since he worked alone with hardly any assistance or budget he couldn't create full-blown animation. Inspired by Stan van der Beek's avant-garde film 'Death Breath' (1964) and George Dunning's animated feature 'Yellow Submarine' (1968) he used goofy cut-and-paste collages. He cut out several photographs from books, newspapers, magazines, postcards, erotic photos, advertisements and his own family portraits. Usually he picked out some classic realistic painting or a 19th/20th-century photo on which the portrayed people have a serious expression. Just moving these images around already had a humorous effect. Sometimes he made collages of two different photographs to create bizarre-looking people and animals. A moustached man could have the body of a bird or arms could grow out of the ground like trees. Gilliam did occasionally draw characters of his own too, but preferred making them into cut-outs. That way he didn't have to draw every frame, but could just move them around like his cut-out photographs. The animation itself was deliberately jerky and unconvincing. To make a character "talk" he just let the lower jaw go up and down. There wasn't even an attempt to synchronize it smoothly to the dialogue. General audiences first saw his silly and surreal cartoons as intermezzos in the children's TV series 'Do Not Adjust Your Set' (1967-1969) and the adult comedy series 'We Have Ways Of Making You Laugh' (1968) on ITV. At 'Do Not Adjust Your Set' Gilliam first met Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin, along with the members of the Bonzo Dog Band. They all wrote and performed zany sketches which made it a cult show both among children as well as adults. In many ways it was a predecessor to Monty Python. Idle, Jones and Palin would later work together with Gilliam on Monty Python, while Neil Innes of the Bonzo Dog Band would become one of their songwriters.

My Son Arnold the Car, by Terry Gilliam

Monty Python
In 1969 Gilliam teamed up with Palin, Idle and Jones, and two actors well known for their contributions to adult comedy sketch shows, John Cleese and Graham Chapman. Together they formed the comedic ensemble Monty Python. Actress Carol Cleveland played parts whenever they needed specific female roles. On 5 October 1969 the first episode of their TV sketch series 'Monty Python's Flying Circus' (1969-1970) (1972-1974) aired on the BBC. The program quickly became notorious for its surreal, experimental and subversive nature. Every episode is unpredictable. Historical and cultural references are made which only a slightly cultivated viewer might understand. Clever ideas are often juxtaposed with silly, somewhat infantile jokes. Sketches often end without proper punchlines and demolish all comedy conventions. Some share a thematical connection, others just abruptly move into different directions. Certain wacky ideas are pushed to their extremes. Actors occasionally point out how silly their sketches are. Sometimes an episode appears to have ended, yet still goes on for several minutes. Other times it comes across as if a totally different show is playing. To top it all off Gilliam's bizarre and grotesque animated intermezzos intercut the live-action content.

At the time 'Monty Python's Flying Circus' baffled and confused audiences. Even today general audiences find it too strange and don't get all the jokes. But gradually it developed a cult following which has only grown over the years. Teenagers, twens and college students loved its anarchic and unconventional tone. The Pythons gained somewhat of a rock 'n' roll status, with many people referring to them as "the Beatles of comedy". In fact, many rock stars were fans of the show, including Elvis Presley, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Frank Zappa, Lemmy and Bruce Dickinson (Iron Maiden). By the mid 1970s the Pythons had expanded their cult appeal to foreign countries too, finding fanbases in Scandinavia, Germany, France, Australia and even the United States and Japan. In 1971 the series won a Silver Rose of Montreux. 

Monty Python spawned a bunch of merchandising, from books, comedy records, stage shows to five feature films which expanded their fame among people who never even heard of their TV series. The anthology film 'And Now For Something Complely Different' (1973) was an adaptation of their best sketches with a higher budget. The picture was co-produced by Hugh Hefner's Playboy Enterprises, but nevertheless only made a profit in the U.K. In 1975 the team decided to make a completely new and original story based on the legend of King Arthur. 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail' (1975) was co-directed by Terry Jones and Gilliam and managed to become a cult hit. Its premier happened to coincide with the first broadcasts of their TV series in the United States, which greatly helped the show's ratings. But the original U.S. broadcasts of 'Monty Python's Flying Circus' on ABC were severely butchered by censorship and many commercial breaks. When Gilliam saw one of these broadcasts he was so outraged that he urged his fellow Pythons to sue ABC. The case gave them a lot of publicity and eventually the judge ruled in their favour. To this day 'Monty Python' is one of the few TV shows in the United States to air without any edits or commercial breaks. In 1979 their most controversial picture, 'Monty Python's Life of Brian' (1979) was released. The film satirized Jesus, Bible epics and particularly religious fanaticism. Several religious groups protested and in several countries 'Life of Brian' was banned, namely Norway, Ireland, Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa, the Middle East and some U.S. states and British villages. The scandal actually made it their biggest box office hit. It also spawned their signature song, 'Always Look on the Bright Side of Life'. In 1982 their concert film 'Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl' (1982) came out, followed by 'Monty Python's Meaning of Life' (1983), an anthology film more in line with the sketch format of their TV show. In 1989 Python member Graham Chapman died from cancer, which terminated any other Python projects.

In the following decades the surviving Pythons occasionally joined up again for interviews, books and documentaries which were branded as "reunions". In reality they usually just featured (some of) the surviving members chatting and cracking jokes. Between 1 and 10 July 2014 an actual reunion took place in London, when the Pythons organized a series of stage shows under the title 'Live (Mostly)'. This marked the first time since Chapman's death that the entire team appeared on the same stage together to perform sketches. Most of it was their old material though, with only a slight few changes. Gilliam was the only one of the sextet to vocally criticize the event. Despite participating with the shows he felt it lacked the tension and excitement of their glory years. By just rehashing their old material he felt they had "sold out" and "became the same establishment they enjoyed to take the piss out of." 

Quick Henry by Terry Gilliam
Comic strip by Gilliam with a reference to an ad campaign of Quick Flit insecticide, which was created by Dr Seuss

Status within Monty Python
Within Monty Python Gilliam was the odd one out amidst an already odd group of people. While the others were graduates from Oxford and Cambridge university Giliam hailed from the university of Minnesota. Together with Eric Idle he was the only Python to write his material independently. Yet whereas Idle's sketches were at least discussed and judged beforehand, the others only saw Gilliam's work when it actually aired on television. This was was mostly because he couldn't exactly explain his visual jokes. To save time he just went ahead and made them without consulting the others. The most notable difference with his colleagues was that he only played small roles. Both in the TV show and the later stage performances and feature films he is usually relegated to cameos. He is the bridge keeper and Patsy, the "horse" of King Arthur, in 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail' (1975), the demented prison guard and an equally crazy prophet in 'Monty Python's Life of Brian' (1979) and the American tourist and unfortunate liver donor in 'Monty Python's Meaning of Life' (1983). On Monty Python's comedy albums he usually played no part at all. Because of this he is often forgotten by general audiences or even confused with his namesake Terry Jones. 

Yet Gilliam's contributions to Monty Python should not be taken lightly. He was present at all their brainstorming sessions, judging and vetoeing ideas, even writing a few sketches himself. He animated the opening credits of the TV show and all their feature films. Gilliam came up with the idea of using John Philip Sousa's march 'Liberty Bell' as their theme music. After spotting a funny-looking bare foot on Agnolo Bronzino's Renaissance painting 'Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time' (1545) he used it as a cut-out and made it the franchise's official logo. At the end of the opening credits of every 'Monty Python' episode this gigantic foot comes down from the sky, crushing everything underneath it.  Compared with his animation for 'Do Not Adjust Your Set' and 'We Have Ways Of Making You Laugh' Gilliam could work in colour and be more explicit in his depictions of nudity and violence. He was furthermore the provider of all their artistic designs and effects. He illustrated Monty Python's book covers, comedy albums, film- and concert posters. The mad genius also provided puppets, sets, costumes and special effects. Gilliam was co-director of the film 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail' (1975) and directed the prologue 'The Crimson Permanent Assurance' which opens 'Monty Python's Meaning of Life' (1983). 

Nevertheless his cartoons have often polarized viewers. Some consider them the highlight of every 'Monty Python' episode or film. Others find it an irritating interruption of the live-action sequences. Either way they still gave Monty Python a visual and distinctive style not found in other (alternative) sketch shows. Michael Palin once said that Gilliam's cartoons were the only thing all their imitators could never surpass. Frank Zappa once praised Gilliam as "the only comedic genius from the United States", while John Cleese credits Monty Python's breakthrough in the U.S. to him: "Terry introduced two things in Python that all Americans love: tits and violence!" 

Monty Python by Terry Gilliam

Film directing
Besides his Python activities Gilliam started a new career as a live-action film director. His first picture, 'Jabberwocky' (1977), was loosely based on Lewis Carroll's work and John Tenniel's illustrations, but had otherwise little to do with it. This medieval farce was a jumbled mess and failed at the box office. In some countries it was incorrectly promoted as a sequel to 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail', because of its medieval setting and Gilliam and Michael Palin both appear in it. 'Time Bandits' (1981), a time travel movie from a child's perspective, had a much more professional look. Even the visual effects were more striking. Starring John Cleese and Michael Palin (who also co-wrote it) in small roles, it still managed to be more Gilliam's own thing, rather than a Python spin-off. 'Time Bandits' became a success at the box office and still enjoys a cult following to this day. The film was also adapted into a comic book by Steve Parkhouse. Universal offered Gilliam a million dollar contract for his next project, which became the Orwellian dystopian picture 'Brazil' (1985).  Once again Michael Palin was one of the star actors in it. The film was a brilliant satire on bureaucracy and our rules-obsessed society. Thanks to the higher budget Gilliam's vision was allowed to blossom like never before. Unfortunately the director spent too much money on it. Executives were worried, especially after noticing the grim and dark tone. They refused to release it, but Gilliam took revenge by showing his own cut to enthusiastic audiences. This forced Universal to bring out 'Brazil' anyway, but only in a severely altered version with an obligatory "happy end". Still, they deliberately refused to advertise it, which let to its box office failure. Nevertheless it did gain a cult following afterwards. Frank Zappa and Harlan Ellison named it their favorite movie of all time and many viewers and critics agree it's easily Gilliam's masterpiece. Beb-Deum's comic book 'Bürocratika' (1987) was strongly inspired by it.

Gilliam's next film, 'The Adventures of Baron Munchausen' (1989), was based on Rudolf E. Raspe's eponymous fantasy novel. This time Eric Idle played a supporting acting role. It once again cost too much to make, while gaining too little at the box office, except for a cult audience. 'The Fisher King' (1991), which dealt with a jobless shock deejay (Jeff Bridges) and a homeless lunatic (Robin Williams), was a more straightforward film and had a much better commercial reception. It even won the Silver Lion for Best Picture in Venice. 'Twelve Monkeys' (1995) featured a man travelling back to the past to warn people for a deadly virus which will destroy mankind. Thanks to the presence of Brad Pitt and Bruce Willis in the main roles the picture was a success. 'Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas' (1998), on the other hand was a complete box office disaster and got booed at the Festival of Cannes. The picture was a frenetic adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson's eponymous cult novel and partially inspired by Ralph Steadman's illustrations. Only later did it achieve cult status. Gilliam's next film was probably the worst moment in his entire career. While trying to adapt Cervantes' novel 'Don Quixote' to the big screen Murphy's law struck hard. Apart from floods, language barriers, untrained horses and planes flying over the main actor got wounded and had to be brought to the hospital. Eventually the entire film had to be cancelled. The tragic events were recorded in the documentary 'Lost In La Mancha' (2002) by Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe. Yet in 2018 Gilliam picked up the project again, found different actors and brough his long-delayed 'Don Quixote' movie in theaters. 'The Man Who Killed Don Quixote' (2018) nevertheless still received mixed reviews. 

'The Brothers Grimm' (2005), a homage to Grimm's fairy tales, did well with audiences, but only becauses executives streamlined it into a typical formulaic Hollywood project. 'Tideland' (2005) was a risky adaptation of Mitch Cullin's controversial novel of the same name. A girl who lives in dire circumstances manages to escape in her fantasies, but audience felt these visions were far too disturbing. Critics on the other hand liked it. During Gilliam's next film, 'The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus' (2009), production had to be halted after star actor Heath Ledger unexpectedly died. With some rewrites of the script and help from actors sympathetic to Gilliam's cause the project was able to be finished after all. The Faustian story about a man who has a magical mirror, but is under Satan's contract, was one of his few pictures to appeal to both audiences and critics. Gilliam went back to cyberpunk with 'The Zero Theorem' (2014), about a withdrawn computer genius looking for the origin of life. 

comic art by Terry Gilliam

In 2011 Terry Gilliam was honoured as a Chevalier dans L'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. Since 1993 he and all six members of Monty Python have an asteroid named after them. Monty Python as a group also has an eponymous asteroid since 1997. 

Legacy and influence
Gilliam is still highly regarded in fantasy, comic book and animation circles. The man contributed to many documentaries, about Spike Milligan ('The Unseen Spike Milligan', 2005), Mel Blanc ('Mel Blanc: The Man of a Thousand Voices', 2008), Bill Plympton ('Adventures in Plymptoons!', 2011), Ray Harryhausen ('Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan', 2011), Ralph Steadman ('For No Good Reason', 2012), Ken Russell ('Ken Russell: A Bit of a Devil', 2012), Karel Zeman ('Film Adventurer Karel Zeman', 2015), Nick Park ('A Grand Night In: The Story of Aardman', 2015), Laurie Lipton ('Love Bite: Laurie Lipton and Her Disturbing Black & White Drawings', 2016) and Edward Gorey ('The Last Day of Edward Gorey'). He provided the liner notes to the 1995 compilation CD 'Strictly Commercial. The Best of Frank Zappa' and in 2011 he wrote the foreword to Paul Gravett's book '1001 Comics You Should Read Before You Die'. 

He was been called a forerunner of the steampunk movement since he combines pre-20th century historical imagery with industrial technology. His style is so distinctive yet difficult to describe that it inspired an eponym: 'Gilliamesque'. The madcap director maintains his renegade reputation. Having been a naturalized British citizen since 1968 he renounced his American citizenship in 2006 to protest the actions of the administration of U.S. President George Bush Jr. As a result he can only stay in the US for a mere month.  In 2011 and 2014 Gilliam directed two operas, Hector Berlioz' 'The Damnation of Faust' and 'Benvenuto Cellini', in collaboration with the English National Opera, which also ran with equal success in Antwerp and Ghent, Belgium. In Hollywood he's still considered a troublemaker and his pictures continue to polarize viewers, critics and longtime fans. At the same time he is one of the few Hollywood directors to actually take artistic risks and make personal works. He therefore built up a loyal cult following with many people admiring his eccentric and highly imaginative style. 

Monty Python has had an incalculable effect on modern-day comedy. Continuing the absurd, subversive and fourth-wall breaking tradition of the Marx Brothers the Pythons have effectively become the second-most famous and influential alternative comedy troupe in the world. Countless alternative sketch shows and comedians have been inspired by them, sometimes downright aping their material. Their spirit can be spotted in shows like 'Saturday Night Live', 'Not the Nine O' Clock News', 'The Young Ones', 'Spitting Image', 'The Kids in the Hall', 'Lava', 'Les Nuls', 'Jiskefet', 'Buiten de Zone', 'The Fast Show', 'League of Gentlemen',  'Little Britain', 'Neveneffecten', 'The Mighty Boosh', 'Mr. Show',... Gilliam's animated cartoons for Monty Python had a strong impact on many equally subversive animators who followed since. Among the artists influenced by him are Matt Groening ('The Simpsons'), John Kricfalusi ('Ren & Stimpy'), Mike Judge ('Beavis & Butt-head'), Everett Peck ('Duckman'), Bill Plympton, Trey Parker and Matt Stone ('South Park') and Seth MacFarlane ('Family Guy').  Masamune Shirow ('Ghost in the Shell') named Terry Gilliam as one of his few Western influences. Other huge fans are F'Murr, Marcel GotlibKamagurka, Herr SeeleMerho, GummbahNixKim Duchateau, Tom Borremans, Michael Monnin, Bas Schuddeboom and Jonas Geirnaert.

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