The New Adventures of Jesus: The Second Coming


By Frank Stack (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-780-3 (TPB)

One of the earliest exponents of the US counter-culture, at least in terms of his contributions to Underground Comix, Frank (Foolbert Sturgeon) Stack has sadly missed out on the benefits of fame and notoriety of such contemporaries as Gilbert Shelton and Robert Crumb.

He may well be the perpetrator of the first ever Underground Commix (a split decision with the late Jack Jackson, both of whom released work in 1964 – although a collection of Stack’s delirious doodles was compiled and Xeroxed by Shelton in 1962-3 as “The Adventures of Jesus”) but I’m sure he’s not that bothered.

What is important is that these throwaway scribbles by all these weirdo drop-out freaks changed the nature of comics and did a huge amount to reshape the society they came from and operated within – a bit like old JC himself, in fact…

Stack’s weapon of choice was the divine redeemer Jesus Christ, whom he made the star of an occasional series of strips satirising America. These intermittently appeared between 1964 and (since there’s new material in this collection) the present day.

A lot of the bite may seem dissipated by time, but that simply shows how effective and successful they were – and actually still are. Many people have pondered on what the Messiah would do if he came back today (sadly not enough of them people in power…), but no-one else could deliver the gentle, telling punches of ‘The Dog Messiah’, ‘Jesus Meets the Armed Services’ (released at the height of the Vietnam War, remember, and more pertinent than ever as America and Russia spar to see who’s best at being World Police), ‘Jesus Joins the Academic Community’ or ‘Jesus on Ice’.

In this collected epistle – available in traditional print and the miracle of digital formatting – those fables and parables are supplemented with the all-new ‘Jesus Meets Intellectual Property Rights’ which shows there’s room – and still a crying need for – Stack’s style of commentary.

This collection is extensive, informative (as well as a commentary from Stack, there are pieces from both Crumb and Shelton) but above all fun to read. You might not get Saved but you will get your money’s worth in entertainment, and if you have a soul it will be blessed and maybe even sanctified…
Text & art © 2006 Frank Stack. All Rights Reserved. This edition © 2006 Fantagraphics Books.

Fifty Freakin’ Years with the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers


By Gilbert Shelton & various (Knockabout Comics)
ISBN: 978-0-86166-261-6 (TPB)

Because you’re all decent, deity-fearing, upstanding citizens you’re probably utterly unaware of the extensive sub-culture which has grown up around the recreational abuse of narcotic pharmaceuticals – and so, of course, am I – but it must be said: those counter-culture chaps certainly know how to craft a comic tale.

The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers first appeared in Texas local paper The Rag, shambling out of the gradually burgeoning Underground Commix counter-culture wave in 1968. They jumped to Berkeley Print Mint’s Feds ‘n’ Heads, and New York tabloid The East Village Other before creator Gilbert Shelton and a few friends moved to California and 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 open-minded portions of America and the world.

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 (as well as 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 latterly Paul Mavrides and others, the disjointed strips (sorry; drug-humour is just irresistible…) combined canny satirical cynicism, surreal situations, 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 equally fine and 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 and born storymaker. His ideas are always enchantingly fresh yet deviously skewed, 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.

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…

Freewheelin’ Franklin is the tough, street-savvy one who can pull the chicks best, Phineas T. is a wildly romantic, educated and dangerous (to himself) intellectual, whilst Fat Freddy is you and me; 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 – which should tell you something…

This commemorative paperback album – now also available digitally – celebrates the trio’s astounding popularity and longevity, opening with a little look back in astonishment via Shelton’s Introduction ‘Fifty Freakin’ Years’ which offers fascinating historical insights and context in an Authorised History that wonderfully shares and captures the tone of those times, augmented by commentary, sketches, posters and found art, candid photos and loads of wry reflections.

Combining classic tales with 28 pages of new material by Shelton, plus loving spoofs and parodies from select cartoonists, the parade of seditious smut and filth opens with full-colour fiasco ‘Phineas Becomes a Suicide Bomber’, wherein the sensitive soul seeks to impress a rabble-rousing feminist icon and accidentally disrupts a glitzy convocation of smug one-percenters…

A pin-up of ‘Flora & Fawna the Jailbait Twins’ (don’t fret; these drawings admit they’re actually over 18 and only look younger…) is followed by more uproarious mayhem when one of our heroes is mugged by kids. Not at all overreacting, ‘Franklin got his Gun!’ when he stumbles into a right wing (aren’t they all?) Gun Show and accidentally triggers a bloodbath…

Following a transcendental moment from 2013 when ‘Mr. Natural meets Fat Freddy’, eternal quester Freekowtski goes on an all-out quest for enlightenment in the hilariously blasphemous ‘Fat Freddy Gets Religion’ revealing the holy power of alcohol – specifically ‘Tall Toad’ beer…

First seen in 2009, ‘The Adventures of the Fabulous Fat Freddy’ combines his search for love and understanding with an unsuspected appreciation of great art before diverting to a beguiling illustrated prose anecdote about storytelling from Shelton.

A selection of homages spoof and parodies follow, beginning with ‘Geek Brothers!’ by Jay Lynch from Bijou Funnies, backed up in stark monochrome by ‘The Feminine Furry-Legged Freek! Sisters’ and its accompanying bottom strip ‘Fat Frieda’s Ass’; both courtesy of Willy Murphy & Ted Richards from The National Lampoon Book of Comical Funnies.

In living colour, the cover of Shelton tribute book Fabuleux Furieux! is followed by Hunt Emerson’s parody ‘Gilbert Shelton’s Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers’ as seen within it, preceding original strip ‘Scotland Yardie vs the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers’ by Bobby Joseph & Joseph Samuels.

Unused art for a Flash animation, ‘The Fabulous Furry Freak Brother’s Strut March’ opens a selection of found art and commissioned works, including 2008 art by Shelton for the 40th Anniversary of comic phenomenon Lambiek; Freak Brothers bank notes; illustrations of Mort Walker’s Comic Strip Lexicon, an Amsterdam Street Scene, Armadillo Rodeo, Street Freaks, poster for a Paris music store and more.

Other stuff includes personalised birthday cards, posters, film festival graphics and covers, sticker art, excerpts from Shelton’s Motoring Tips series, a tribute page to the many artistic co-contributors who added to the grubby lustre of the Freaks over the First Fifty Years and much, much more.

Anarchically sardonic and splendidly ludicrous, the madcap slapstick of the Freak Brothers is always an irresistible and joyously innocent tonic for the blues and this book – available in paperback and digital editions – 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…
© 2017 Gilbert Shelton. All rights reserved.

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.

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.

The Best of Fat Freddy’s CAT books 1 & 2


By Gilbert Shelton with Dave Sheridan, Paul Mavrides & Lieuen Adkins (Knockabout)
ISBN: 0-86166-009-9 & 0-86166-014-5   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 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 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 (with his cat): simpatico metaphorical siblings in sybaritic self-indulgence.

Fat Freddy’s Cat quickly became a star in his own right: tiny “topper” strips (separate mini adventures which accompanied the main story) in the newspapers that supplemented the Freaks’ antics became single page gags and eventually bloomed during the 1970s into full-blown extended exploits of the canny, cynical feline reprobate in his own series of digest-sized comicbooks The Adventures of Fat Freddy’s CAT

Much of the material consisted of untitled quickies and short strips concocted by Shelton (with assistance from Dave Sheridan, Paul Mavrides and Lieuen Adkins) and eventually the little yarns were collected by UK Publisher Knockabout as a brace of oversized – 297x212mm – black and white comic albums and as mass-market b-format paperbacks in their Crack Editions imprint. In 2009 the entire canon was collected as The Fat Freddy’s CAT Omnibus.

These tales are wicked, degenerate, scatologically vulgar, sublimely smutty and brilliantly funny in any format but perhaps their raw anarchic, sly hysteria is best enjoyed in the giant tomes I’m highlighting here.

Book one opens with a dozen or so six panel strips and a single pager produced between 1971 and 1978, before the hilariously whacky epic ‘Chariot of the Globs’ (written by Adkins with art by Shelton & Sheridan) reveals how the imperturbable puss saved alien explorers from a hideous fate, followed by another fifty shorts covering every topic from mating to feeding, talking to humans and especially how cats inflict revenge…

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 and break-out…

Amidst the remaining sixty-plus shorts comprising talking cockroaches, drug-fuelled excess, toilet training and drinking, fighting, mating and outsmarting humans, lurks one last lengthy treat from 1980, ‘The Sacred Sands of Pootweet… or the Mayor’s Meower’, 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 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 callously tries to manufacture one), only sacred, unblemished, undesecrated sands which the cat – in dire need of a potty-break – heads straight for…

The second volume is blessed with another seventy-odd scurrilous, scandalous and supremely hilarious short gags ranging from half to two pages, intoxicatingly interlaced with longer comedic classics such as the untitled tirade against modern newspaper strips which “guest-stars” such luminaries as Mary Worth, Doonesbury, Kronk, Andy Capp, Peanuts and a heavenly host of cartoon cats from Garfield to Fritz to Felix

Also included are the devious and satirical 1973 spy-spoof ‘I Led Nine Lives!’ recounting the days when the fabulous feline worked for the FBI, ‘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 and a truly salutary tale for all fans and readers…

Following the innocent – but so enjoyable – shredding of Fat Freddy’s comic collection and the expiration of his ninth life, ‘Paradise Revisited’ (1983 and illustrated by Paul Mavrides) finds the Marvellous Moggy in heaven again: but even though the place is packed with famous felines it’s not all catnip and celebration…

Despite the hippy-dippy antecedents and stoner presentiments, Shelton is always a consummate 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.

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.
© 1983, 1984, 2009 Gilbert Shelton. All rights reserved.

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.

The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers in “Grass Roots”

– a Knockabout Deluxe Edition

By Gilbert Shelton & Dave Sheridan (Knockabout Comics)
ISBN: 0-86166-015-3

Because you’re all decent, deity-fearing, upstanding citizens you’re probably utterly unaware of the extensive sub-culture which has grown up around the recreational abuse of narcotic pharmaceuticals – and so, of course, am I – but it must be said: those counter-culture chaps 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 open-minded portions of America and the world.

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; just could not resist) combined canny satirical cynicism, surreal situations, 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.

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…

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 – which should tell you something…

‘Grass Roots’ has slowly been adapted into a “claymation” movie for as long as I can remember – and still not completed yet – but the tale it is based on has been a favourite for even longer (since first produced serially in 1976) and this luxurious full-colour hardback edition from 1984 is the very best way in which to enjoy it…

After a cartoon introduction from Shelton the intoxicating entertainment begins with a series of shorts strips ‘The Mellow Cab Man’, ‘Violence on the Bus’, an untitled culinary escapade, ‘Fat Freddy Demonstrates How to Use Rolling Papers’ and ‘Phineas and the Organic Mechanic’ after which the main event commences.

After being evicted again for not paying rent, the Freaks luck into a caretaking gig at a palatial “haunted” mansion where the hapless fools find a huge stash of cocaine. After selling most of it to legendary independent vendor Dealer McDope they have enough cash to buy a forty acre farm, pick up a bevy of hitchhiker babes and set up in the agricultural narcotics game. They also have an entire year’s supply of cocaine for personal use…

Their rural idyll suddenly turns painfully real when they blow all that coke (sorry: I’m just incorrigible, me) in two days and, stranded miles from the city, have no choice but to make the far-fetched farm pipe-dream work…

It’s hard, unrewarding labour, the friendly locals aren’t and without drugs the girls are finding the boys less and less appealing. As the joys of getting back to nature pall things temporarily turn around when they “discover gold” on the property and the farm turns into the lawless boomtown of Rush City overnight.

As picturesque Boondock County slowly succumbs to the imported blandishments of Sex and Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll, things seem to going great for the furry ones, but then the rains begin to fall on the desiccated, over-excavated soils of mining town.

It rains and rains and rains…

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…
© 1984 Gilbert Shelton. All rights reserved.

The New Adventures of Jesus: The Second Coming

The New Adventures of Jesus: The Second Coming 

By Frank Stack

(Fantagraphics Books)  ISBN 1-56097-780-9

One of the earliest exponents of the US counter-culture, at least in terms of his contributions to Underground Comix, Frank (Foolbert Sturgeon) Stack has sadly missed out on the benefits of fame and notoriety of such contemporaries as Gilbert Shelton and Robert Crumb.

He may well be the perpetrator of the first ever underground (a split decision with the late Jack Jackson, both of whom released work in 1964 – although a collection of stack’s doodles was compiled and Xeroxed by Shelton in 1962-3 as “The Adventures of Jesus”) but I’m sure he’s not that bothered. What is important is that these throwaway scribbles by all these weirdo drop-out freaks changed the nature of comics and did a huge amount to reshape the society they came from.

Stack’s weapon of choice was Jesus Christ, whom he made the star of an occasional series of strips satirising America which appeared between 1964 and (since there’s new material in this collection) the present day.

A lot of the bite may seem dissipated by time, but that simply shows how effective and successful they were – and actually still are. Many people have pondered on what the Messiah would do if he came back today, but no-one else could deliver the gentle, telling punches of The Dog Messiah, Jesus Meets the Armed Services (released at the height of the Vietnam War), Jesus Joins the Academic Community or Jesus on Ice, and, as the brand new Jesus Meets Intellectual Property Rights shows, there’s room — and still a need for — Stack’s style of commentary.

This collection is extensive, informative (as well as a commentary from Stack, there are pieces from both Crumb and Shelton) but above all, fun to read. You might not get Saved but you will get your money’s worth in entertainment.

Text & art © 2006 Frank Stack. All Rights Reserved.
This edition © 2006 Fantagraphics Books.