Sunday, November 20, 2005
One of my favorite cartoonists is Gilbert Shelton. Shelton, like Robert Crumb, has seemingly transcended the bounds of art labeling. He started in the late fifties/early sixties in college newspapers, turned up in Kurtzman’s HELP, went on to various car comics magazines (that, believe it or not, were EVERYWHERE at the time! You had trouble finding CRACKED or CASTLE OF FRANKENSTEIN on the stands but those frickin’ hot rod comics mags were omnipresent!!!), got his OWN mag in early 1967, spearheaded the growing underground comics movement, moved into newspaper syndication and eventually moved to Paris, France where you’ll find him today!
Shelton’s WONDER WARTHOG would seem to be the missing evolutionary link between the mainstream and the underground. The fact that he ran for two issues in his own newsstand mag in ’67 and, I think, a paperback book just a couple of years before a very, very controversial, boundary-shredding ZAP appearance clearly ties the Hog of Steel to both worlds. Rip-Off Press has reprinted Wonder’s adventures a number of times in various formats over the years so check your local comic shop for inexpensive, hilarious stuff!
Meanwhile, Shelton went on to create the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers—Fat Freddy, Phineas and Freewheelin’ Franklin. This series became one of the most popular in the undergrounds in the early seventies and its drug taking three stooges became icons to a whole generation that was, itself, rapidly changing into something else. I’ve heard people say that they can’t read Freak Brothers stories because they don’t take drugs and therefore can’t relate. Hmmm…Guess that means only river folk "get" Mark Twain and if I’m not English, I can’t possibly understand Dickens. Give yourselves some credit, people! It’s well-written, often simply drawn—but sometimes amazingly intricate—and it’s also HILARIOUS!!! Myself, I smoked pot approximately six times in 1981with nothing stronger than my blood pressure medicine in years BUT I STILL GET IT, OK!!??
In fact, the strip reprinted here is one of the funniest pieces I have ever seen! I laugh out loud every time I even think of this page. This page was from the Freak Brothers spin-off, FAT FREDDY’S COMICS AND STORIES which also featured quite a bit of FAT FREDDY’S CAT, a funny strip that might be described as GARFIELD with balls…hairballs!
Over the years, Shelton teamed up with various other creators on the Freaks, most notably the late Dave Sheridan and the mysterious Paul Mavrides.
Perhaps the culmination of the Shelton/Mavrides team is the full color graphic novel, THE IDIOTS ABROAD, first published in 1987 and featuring work serialized in various comics since 1982. The color, credited to Mavrides and fellow underground cartoonist Guy Colwell, is some of the absolute best I have ever seen and the storyline sends the gang around the world in separate politically and socially satirical adventures. I believe this is still in print. Certainly still available is the most recent version of THE COMPLETE FREAK BROTHERS. Check your local comic shop for some politically incorrect laughs!
Here’s a link to a fascinating older interview with Shelton from The Comics Journal: Interviews and
HERE’s a link to a more recent piece on his life in France: Paris Kiosque - The Freak Brothers in Paris - Dec 2001/Jan 2002