The Collected Fat Freddy’s Cat volumes One and Two


By Gilbert Shelton with Dave Sheridan & Lieuen Adkins (Knockabout)
ISBN: 0-86166-055-2 & 0-86166-056-0   Omnibus 978-0-86166-161-9

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 like-minded 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” (contemporary term for lazy, dirty, drug-taking hippy folk) 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 newspapers 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 quintessentially idealised cat): simpatico metaphorical siblings struggling day-to-day with their selected life style of sybaritic self-indulgence.

In the grand tradition of early newspaper “Funnies” sections, the original strips were often accompanied by “topper” or “footer” strips – separate mini adventures which accompanied the main story – designed to fill any odd spaces on the various syndicated pages.

Most of these micro strips supplementing the Freaks’ antics starred Fat Freddy’s Cat who rapidly became an offensively anarchic star in his own right. Eventually those 5 or 6 panel gags became complete single pages which bloomed during the 1970s into full-blown extended exploits of the canny, cynical feline reprobate in his own series of digest-sized comicbooks entitled, unsurprisingly, The Adventures of Fat Freddy’s CAT

Much of the material consisted of untitled quickies and short sequences concocted by Shelton (with assistance from Dave Sheridan, Paul Mavrides and Lieuen Adkins) and eventually, inevitably, those little yarns were collected by UK Publisher Knockabout as a brace of oversized  297x212mm  black and white albums and, as here, two mass-market b-format paperbacks in the company’s Crack Editions imprint.

In 2009 the entire canon was finally collected in one arm-busting tome as The Fat Freddy’s CAT Omnibus.

These tales are wicked, degenerate, surreal, hilariously cynical, scatologically vulgar and relentlessly drenched in daft pre-stoner “Dude, Where’s my Litterbox…” drug culture idiom; sublimely smutty and brilliantly funny in any format but with their raw, anarchic, arch-hysteria perhaps best enjoyed in the fabulous jacket-pocket-concealable editions I’m highlighting today.

Book One opens with the hilariously whacky epic ‘Chariot of the Globs’ (written by Adkins with art by Shelton & Sheridan) revealing how the imperturbable, insouciant puss saved alien explorers from a hideous fate on our backward planet, followed by 38 short, sharp shockers covering every topic from mating to feeding, the joy of bathing cats to the things they’ll put in their cute little mouths, and the equally voluble creatures such as the Massed Cockroach Army under Freddy’s fridge…

Other pant-wetting topics covered include talking to humans, the war between felines and electrical appliances, how chickens think, kittens, travelling in Mexico, why you should never have uncaged moggies in your van and especially how cats inflict revenge…

The next extended saga is the devious and satirical 1973 spy-spoof ‘I Led Nine Lives!’ recounting the days when the fabulous feline worked undercover for the FBI. This is followed by 31 more mirthful manic gag strips about eating, excreting, clawing, dancing, grooming and meeting fellow felines. Shelton and Sheridan then disclose the horrors of ‘Animal Camp’ wherein the irrepressible feline was dumped by Fat Freddy in a Boarding Kennel run by Nazi war criminals where pets were converted into clothing and pet food or else used in arcane genetic experiments!

Naturally the brainy beast had to lead a rebellion… leading to the last 15 gag strips and ending with a big song and dance number in the Ballad of Fat Freddy’s Cat

 

Volume Two begins with the lengthy and uproarious epic ‘The Sacred Sands of Pootweet… or the Mayor’s Meower’ from 1980, a splendidly raucous political satire based on the tale of Dick Whittington.

When a religious hard-liner overthrows the oil-rich nation and former US satellite of Pootweet, Fat Freddy attempts to scam religious dictator the Supreme Hoochy-Coochy by using the cat to clean up kingdom’s rodent problem. Only trouble is that the pious and poor Pootweet populace have no vermin problem (even after Freddy industriously attempts to import and manufacture one); only sacred, unblemished, un-desecrated shining serene sands which the cat – in dire need of a potty-break – heads straight for…

Then 39 more unforgettable side-splitting shorts investigate food, weather, diets for cats,  communication, feline entertainments, food, Christmas, mice, cat mimes and food, and ‘Fat Freddy’s CAT in the Burning of Hollywood’ from 1978 wherein the sublimely smug and sanguine survivor of a million hairy moments regales his ever-burgeoning brood of impressionable kittens with how he and his imbecilic human spectacularly flamed out in the movie biz: a truly salutary tale for all fans and readers…

This second tome then descend into catty chaos with 66 more solo strips covering and comprising talking cockroaches, drug-fuelled excess, toilet training (and imbibing), fighting, mating, outsmarting humans, outsmarting Freddy (not the same thing), begging, playing, healing and getting lost and being found – in fact all those things which make pet ownership such an untrammelled delight, and possibly explain the rise of recreational substance abuse since the 1970s….

Despite the hippy-dippy antecedents and stoner presentiments, Gilbert Shelton is always a consummate comedy professional. His ideas are enchantingly fresh yet timeless, the dialogue is permanently spot-on, and his pacing perfect. The stories, whether half-page quickies, short vignettes or full blown sagas, start strong and relentlessly build to spectacular – and often wildly outrageous, hallucinogenic yet story-appropriate – climaxes. Moreover, blessed by his superbly skewed view, these scurrilous, scandalous and supremely hilarious examples of the cartoonists’ skill are comics classics to be read and re-read ad infinitum.

Anarchically sardonic and splendidly ludicrous, the madcap slapstick and sly satire of Gilbert Shelton is always an irresistible, riotously innocent tonic for the blues and these tales should be a compulsory experience for any fan of the comics medium.
© 1987 Gilbert Shelton. All rights reserved.