Thoroughly Ripped with the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers …and Fat Freddy’s CAT!


By Gilbert Shelton & Dave Sheridan with Paul Mavrides (Rip Off Press, Inc.)
ISBN: 978-0-89620-088-3
(1978)

Since nobody normal, god-fearing, decent and upstanding would ever dabble with  recreational pharmaceuticals, you’re probably utterly unaware of the extensive sub-culture which has grown up around the casual abuse and dastardly trafficking of narcotics – and so, of course, am I – but it must be said: those counter-culture dudes certainly know how to craft a comic tale.

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, before creator Gilbert Shelton and a few friends founded their own San Francisco based Rip Off Press in 1969. This effective collective continued to maximise the madness as the hilarious antics of the “Freaks” (a contemporary term for lazy, dirty, drug-taking hippy folks) captured the imagination of the more open-minded portions of America and the world (not to mention their kids)…

In 1971 Rip Off 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, Playboy and numerous foreign periodicals in featuring the addictive adventures of Freewheelin’ Franklin, Phineas T. Freakears and Fat Freddy Freekowtski (and his cat): simpatico metaphorical siblings in sybaritic self-indulgence.

Always written by Shelton and, from 1974 illustrated by Dave Sheridan (until his death in 1982) after which Paul Mavrides picked up the nibs and brushes; the disjointed strips (sorry; irresistible puns are the monkey on my back) combined canny satirical cynicism, surreal situations, scatological sauciness and a terrifying grasp of human nature in staggeringly comedic episodes which cannot fail to amuse anyone with a mature sense of humour.

All the strips have been collected in various formats (in Britain by the marvellous 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 yet timeless, 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 story-appropriate – climaxes.

And they’re so very, very funny.

Freewheelin’ Franklin is the tough, street-savvy one who can pull the chicks best, Phineas T. Freakears is a wildly romantic, educated and dangerous (to himself) intellectual whilst Fat Freddy Freekowtski 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 imbibed, both real and invented, the Freaks don’t ever do heroin – and if that’s not a warning message I don’t know what is…

Thoroughly Ripped is a compilation first released in 1978 and revised with the 1980 edition reviewed here: a luxurious full painted-colour softcover which collects the last of Dave Sheridan’s strips and a couple of the superb early Paul Mavrides efforts in a gloriously anarchic and hilarious chronicle of cloudy-headed, anti-corporate skits and sketches.

The wit and wonderment opens with ‘Fat Freddy’s CAT in the Burning of Hollywood’ from 1978 as the sublimely smug and sanguine survivor of a million hairy moments recounts to his ever-burgeoning brood of impressionable kittens how he and his imbecilic human spectacularly flamed out in the movie biz in a classic tale written and illustrated by Shelton, after which follows a single page strip about the dangers of buying your fun from a guy in an alley…

Next up is the breakthrough “origin” saga of Phineas ‘Winter of ’59’ (produced for internationally distributed Playboy magazine in 1974) and a saucy retrospective of high times in the Fabulous Fifties and Swinging Sixties.

‘Sunday Funnies’ was a single-page spoof of super-cop Dick Tracy starring inept undercover Fed Notorious Norbert (the Nark) who returned in ‘The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers and the Mysterious Visitor’ which saw the start of Dave Sheridan’s artistic endeavours in a snazzy sting operation by the dragged-up drug cop, followed by the superbly surreal ‘Ridin’ That Train’ as Fatty Freddy discovered the mixed joys of train sets and strong weed…

Much of the material consisted of untitled quickies and short strips. Freewheelin’ Franklin solos in a paranoid cautionary tale of the perils of housework, whilst Freddy and Phineas get into a bizarre battle over TV privileges after which the Fat One finally decides to get rid of the cockroach invasion blighting his life before accidentally and cataclysmically exposing corporate greed in the fire-alarm sales trade…

Preceded by a one-page tale of Phineas’ latest drug-dregs recycling invention, ‘The $29.95 SF to NYC Non-Stop Whiteline Cannonball Express’ by Shelton & Sheridan details the explosive and acerbic epic tale of the Bro’s attempt to start a trans-continental people’s vintage bus service with the usual wildly unbelievable detours and results, after which a flurry of short strips, including Freddy’s adventure in a mud wallow, Phineas’ attempt to make bees produce marijuana honey, Norbert’s latest drug scanning technology fiasco and a search for the legendary “Lost Volkswagen Cocaine Stash” leads to the lads’ latest home-growing experiment decimating their apartment block.

The Reefer Madness concludes with a yarn exposing the secret TV conspiracy to suck out our brains, how undercover cops won a Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers look-alike competition and two Mavrides one-pagers – an untitled collaboration with Sheridan detailing the wonder of “the munchies” and the disgustingly uproarious ‘Zeno’s Law’ as the Freaks attempt to legislate and police refrigerator privileges and responsibilities…

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

Anarchically sardonic and splendidly ludicrous, the madcap slapstick of the Freak Brothers is always an irresistible and joyously innocent tonic for the blues and these tales should be a compulsory experience for any fan of the comics medium. However, if you’re still worried about the content, which is definitely habit-forming, simply read but don’t inhale…
© 1981 Rip Off Press, Inc. Fat Freddy’s Cat © 1981 Gilbert Shelton. “Winter of ‘59” © 1974 Playboy.