Sunday, January 4, 2009

Some of Our Favorite Heroes: The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers


The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers are a trio of underground comic strip characters created by the U.S. artist Gilbert Shelton. Beginning in 1968, their adventures were collected in a series published by Rip Off Press. With the demise of the underground newspaper, new adventures continued to appear in magazines such as Playboy, High Times, and Rip Off Comix; these too were collected in comic book form. Shelton continued to write the series until 1992, in collaboration with Dave Sheridan (1974-1982) and Paul Mavrides (since 1978). The work enjoys a sizable cult following, and the magazines are widely available in comic stores.

While most underground comix are humorous, the Freak Brothers live a slapstick existence reminiscent of the best silent comedies. Their entire lives rotate around the procurement and enjoyment of recreational drugs, particularly marijuana. None of them have the slightest concern about gainful employment, and the only use for money is to procure some food and lots of drugs without getting "burned" by unscrupulous dealers or busted by the police. Other storylines include "Fat Freddie's Cat" and a military empire of cockroaches in the kitchen. The stories often satirize the establishment and right-wing politics. For a counterculture production, the standard of artwork is exceptionally high; Shelton's striving for accuracy and attention to detail have earned him comparisons with Hergé.

The majority of the titles in the series consist of one or more multi-page stories together with a number of one-page strips. Many of the latter have a one-row skit featuring Fat Freddy's Cat at the bottom of the page. Some of the titles also contain a small number of strips featuring completely unrelated characters.

The Freak Brothers are a threesome of hippies (hippies were commonly known as "freaks" in 1970s U.S. slang) from San Francisco: Phineas Freakears, Freewheelin' Franklin, and Fat Freddy. The trio are anti-heroes, taking large quantities of drugs and consistently defying authority. They are lazy (several storylines revolve around the "horror" of one of the brothers having to find work) and unreliable — particularly in the case of Fat Freddy.

The three Freak Brothers have very different personalities:

  • Freewheelin' Franklin, although laid-back, is the most street-smart of the trio. Apparently he has always been on the streets. In one story he reveals that he grew up in an orphanage and never knew his parents. Tall and skinny, he has a big bulbous nose, a waterfall moustache, and a ponytail, and wears cowboy boots and a cowboy hat. He might be a biker if he didn't spend all his money on drugs. His hair is red, blonde, or light brown.
  • Phineas T. Freakears is the intellectual and idealist of the group; he can and has created new drugs, takes an avid interest in politics, and is the most committed of the three to social change and environmental issues. He hails from Texas, and while his mother is relaxed and open-minded, his father is a card-carrying member of the John Birch Society. He is the hairiest, tall and skinny with a thick bush of black hair, a beard, a nose that bears more than a passing resemblance to a marijuana joint, and glasses. He is the stereotypical left-wing radical, bearing a superficial resemblance to Abbie Hoffman or Jerry Rubin.
  • Fat Freddy Freekowtski is the least intelligent, and can be seen as an embodiment of pure appetite. He is fat, or at least plump, with curly yellow hair. He regularly gets "burned" on drug transactions, and when he does "score," he usually manages to lose the drugs in various ways, such as by dumping them out of a shopping bag in front of a fan which then blows them out the window onto a police car. Fat Freddy comes from a large, quite ordinary family in Cleveland.

Other regularly occurring characters include:

  • Fat Freddy's Cat, who appears mainly in his own, separate strip at the bottom of the one-page Freak Brothers strips (getting his start just as Krazy Kat did) also has several multi-page stories devoted to him. Many of his strips parallel a storyline in the corresponding Freak Brothers story, and often have themes of a scatological nature. The Cat is sometimes known as "Fat Freddy Scat" and has used the alias "F. Frederic Skitty". His "nephews" refer to him as "Uncle F." He often finds himself confronting an army of cockroaches and a huge tribe of mice who share the apartment with the Freak Brothers. A sort of hippie "Garfield", he is far smarter than his owner (whom he frequently refers to as "the obese one") and regards the Freak Brothers with amused contempt.
  • Norbert the Nark, an inept DEA agent who is continually trying, and failing, to arrest the Freak Brothers.
  • Hiram "Country" Cowfreak, a hippy who grows vast quantities of marijuana at his isolated farmstead. He is referred to as the Freak Brothers' "cousin".
  • Dealer McDope, one of the trio's dealers. He is often name-checked in the magazines but rarely appears "in person".
  • Tricky Prickears, a blind and deaf detective, sometimes billed as "The Freak Brothers' favorite law enforcement officer" (a parody of Dick Tracy).
  • Governor Rodney Richpigge, A stereotypical rich, corrupt politician whom the Freak Brothers hold in general contempt. The Governor's son is a cocaine dealer.

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