The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers in The Idiots Abroad


By Gilbert Shelton & Paul Mavrides, colour by Guy Colwell (Knockabout)
ISBN: 0-86166-053-6

The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers shambled out of the Underground Commix counter-culture wave in 1968; initially appearing in Berkeley Print Mint’s Feds ‘n’ Heads, and in Underground newspapers before creator Gilbert Shelton and a few friends founded their own San Francisco based Rip Off Press in 1969.

That effective collective continued to maximise the reefer madness and the hilarious antics of the “Freaks” (contemporary term for lazy, dirty, drug-taking hippy folk) quickly captured the imaginations of the more open-minded portions of America and the world (not to mention their kids)…

In 1971 they published the first compilation: The Collected Adventures of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers – which has been in print all around the planet ever since – and soon assorted underground magazines and college papers were joined by the heady likes of Rip Off Comix, High Times and Playboy (and numerous foreign periodicals) in featuring the addictive adventures of Freewheelin’ Franklin, Phineas T. Freakears and Fat Freddy Freekowtski (and his cat): siblings in sybaritic self-indulgence.

Always written by Shelton and, from 1974 illustrated by Dave Sheridan (until his death in 1982) and Paul Mavrides, the disjointed strips (sorry; bad puns are my opiate of choice) combined canny satire, worldly cynicism, surreal situations, drug-based scatological sauciness and an astounding grasp of human nature in brilliantly comedic episodes that cannot fail to amuse anyone with a mature sense of humour.

All the strips have been collected in various formats (in Britain by the fabulous folks of Knockabout Comics) and have been happily absorbed by vast generations of fans – most of whom wouldn’t read any other comic.

Despite the hippy-dippy antecedents and stoner presentiments, Shelton is irrefutably a consummate professional. His ideas are always enchantingly fresh, the dialogue is permanently spot-on and his pacing perfect. The stories, whether half-page fillers, short vignettes or full blown sagas, start strong and relentlessly build to spectacular – and often wildly outrageous, hallucinogenic yet narrative-appropriate – climaxes.

Franklin is the tough, street-savvy one who can pull the chicks best, Phineas is a wildly romantic, educated and dangerous (to himself) intellectual whilst Fat Freddy is us; weak-willed, greedy, not so smart, vastly put upon by an uncaring universe but oddly charming (you wish…)

One last point: despite the vast panoply of drugs ingested, imbibed and otherwise absorbed, both real and invented, the Freaks don’t ever do heroin – which should tell you something…

‘The Idiots Abroad’ was first published in issues #8-10 of The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers comicbook, beginning in 1982, by Shelton & Paul Mavrides with colour separations by fellow controversial Underground cartoonist Guy Colwell (see Doll). This compilation first appeared in 1988.

The alternative anarchy and high-strung hilarity opens with a cunning monochrome introduction set in the high-tech Bastion of Commerce which is the Rip Off Press High-rise after which the scene switches Oz-like to full-colour as the beardy boys, just chilling in their latest crash-pad, realise that they’re paying too much for their drugs. If they just holidayed in Colombia they could buy the stuff at source and make a killing…

Keen and eager the trio set off for the airport, expecting an easy flight to their Promised Land. Fat Freddy falls in with a drunken bunch of Scottish football fans, Phineas accidentally boards a jet for the Middle East and only Franklin actually gets on a plane for South America: of course it is a package tour of survivalists…

Ever vigilant, the US government quickly dispatches dedicated super-cop Norbert the Nark to follow the Brothers…

As Franklin finds himself in bed with freedom-fighting, drug-dealing Indio eco-warriors and quite sensibly runs for his life, in Scotland Fat Freddy has been mistaken for nuclear terrorist Andre the Hyena and similarly bolts.

Making his way across Europe the corpulent clown unwittingly takes with him a soccer-ball shaped thermonuclear device and stumbles into a global military conspiracy conceived by the Colonels of every nation to seize control of human civilisation…

Phineas meanwhile has landed in Mecca and through his usual incredible good fortune has become a valued member of the government and a major player in OPEC.

Whilst Franklin joins a cruise ship full of millionaires and ends up sold into slavery when the vessel is attacked by pirates, Fat Freddy rampages across Spain and meets the utterly “out there” Anarchist genius Pablos Pegaso before invading the Warsaw Pact countries at the artist’s suggestion, ending up in Moscow at just the wrong moment…

The stupendous saga of outrageous Unrealpolitik ramps up even more when the assembled Colonels take over the world and in a Saudi dungeon Franklin and the now thin Freddy are sold at auction to all-powerful Father Phineas, the Honest Hierophant who has converted his immense wealth into real money by inventing “Fundaligionism” which is now the hottest Faith around and has made him the richest person on the planet…

And that’s when the cartoon craziness really starts to motor…

And they’re so very, very funny.

Without Shelton and the Freaks the whole sub-genre of slacker/stoner movies, from Cheech and Chong’s assorted escapades to Dude, Where’s My Car? and all the rest – good, bad or indifferent – wouldn’t exist. Whether or not that’s a good thing is up to you.

Chaotically satirical, poisonously cynical and addictively ludicrous, the madcap slapstick of the Freak Brothers is always an unbelievably potent tonic for the blues and this epic escapade of inspired insanity is among their very best exploits. However, if you’re still worried about the content, which is definitely habit-forming, simply read but don’t inhale…
© 1987 Rip Off Press, Inc., and Gilbert Shelton. All rights reserved.