The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers are a trio of underground comic strip characters created by the U.S. artist Gilbert Shelton. The Freak Brothers first appeared in The Rag, an underground newspaper published in Austin, Texas, beginning in May 1968; and were regularly reprinted in underground papers around the United States and in other parts of the world. Later their adventures were published in a series of comic books.
The lives of the Freak Brothers revolve around the procurement and enjoyment of recreational drugs, particularly marijuana. None of them has the slightest concern about gainful employment and the only use for money is to procure food and drugs without getting "burned" by unscrupulous dealers or busted by the police. Other storylines involve Fat Freddy's Cat and occasionally a military empire of cockroaches in the kitchen. The stories often satirize the establishment and right-wing politics, and are highly topical with respect to the counterculture era.
The Freak Brothers first appeared in The Rag, an underground newspaper published in Austin, Texas, beginning in May 1968; and were regularly reprinted in underground papers around the United States and in other parts of the world.
Their first comic book appearance was in Feds 'n' Heads, published by Berkeley's Print Mint in 1968. In 1969 Shelton and three friends from Texas founded Rip Off Press in San Francisco, which took over publication of all subsequent Freak Brothers comics. The first compilation of their adventures, The Collected Adventures of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, had its first printing in 1971 and has been continually in print ever since. In addition to underground and college weekly newspapers, new adventures appeared 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.
The majority of the comic books 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 not siblings. They are a threesome of freaks (similar to but distinct from the more well-known hippies) from San Francisco. Their names are Phineas Freakears, Fat Freddy Freekowtski and Freewheelin' Franklin (whose surname has not been revealed so far). The trio are anti-heroes, ingesting or smoking large quantities of drugs and consistently defying authority. They are lazy (several storylines revolve around the "horror" of one of the protagonists having to find work) and unreliable—particularly in the case of Fat Freddy.
The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, from left to right, Phineas, Fat Freddy and Freewheelin' Franklin
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 and it appears that he is several years older than the others. He is certainly old enough to be troubled at times by impotence. 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 mustache and a ponytail. He wears cowboy boots and a cowboy hat. In one strip, he runs into an ex-girlfriend who has a child that bears a striking resemblance to himself. He does his best to evade them and is relieved when she doesn't recognize him. He is thus unburdened of any parental obligation. In another strip, when he meets his own (possible) father, the same story line is inverted. Depending on the level of colorisation used in the strip in question, or perhaps the use of dye, Franklin's hair is red, blonde, or light brown.
Phineas Phreakears is the intellectual and idealist of the group. He has enough mastery of chemistry to create new drugs and takes an avid interest in politics. Of the three, he is the most committed 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 of the brothers - 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 of the trio and is most likely to be preoccupied with food. He is fat, or at least plump, with curly yellow hair. His compulsion to eat is the subject of several of the adventures of the group. Fat Freddy regularly gets "burned" during 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 cooling fan, which then blows them out the window onto a police car. Fat Freddy comes from a large, quite ordinary family in Cleveland. In The Idiots Abroad, Freddy visits the Polish village of Gfatsk, where everybody happens to look like him. Nevertheless, he is driven away by an angry mob as soon as they hear the name Freekowtski.
Other recurring characters include:
Fat Freddy's Cat 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). He 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". He has several "nephews" who refer to him as "Uncle F." and sometimes finds himself confronting an organized army of cockroaches or a huge tribe of mice who share the apartment with the Freak Brothers. He is far smarter than his owner (whom he frequently refers to as "the obese one") and regards the Freak Brothers with amused contempt. He is also the subject of several spin-off collections of stories.
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". The character was initially created by Dave Sheridan for the Rip Off Press title Mother's Oats Comix.
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.
Storylines and themes
Freddy, with his cat
The use of assorted psychoactive drugs is a predominant theme that runs throughout all volumes of this title. Marijuana is the most frequently mentioned, but numerous other stimulants and hallucinogens are mentioned as well. Most of the Freak Brothers stories include the use of drugs, or attempts to purchase them, for humorous effect, although heroin is notably missing from the list of drugs that the Freak Brothers would condone using. In one adventure, Franklin is shown to refuse, with alarm, an offer of 'smack' when hitching a ride.
Food is a commonly recurring subject. These stories most often involve Fat Freddy and his marijuana-induced "munchies" (increased appetite). The squalor engendered by the Brothers' indolence is often highlighted; several strips feature the household's cockroach population, ruled over by a fascistmonarchy whose leader resembles General Douglas MacArthur . Several stories satirise governments, particularly the U.S. government. These stories invariably show politicians and their agents as corrupt, incompetent, or both. The theme of foreign travel is sometimes explored, most notably in the three-part Idiots Abroad series.
It is common for the storylines to begin with an air of realism, but rapidly descend into comic pantomime.
Freak Brothers stories include:
Grass Roots: The Brothers find a "year's supply" of cocaine and move to the country with the proceeds. They manage to snort it all in two days.
Mexican Odyssey: The Brothers holiday in Mexico, are thrown in jail and escape with the help of shaman Don Longjuan, in a partial spoof of the Carlos Castaneda books.
The Idiots Abroad: The Brothers are split up attempting to travel to Colombia hoping to score on cheap dope down there, yet none of them manages to even just reach Bogotá; Fat Freddy accidentally joins a group of nuclear terrorists in Scotland before disrupting the International Workers' Day military parade in Moscow, USSR and being subsequently sold to slavery in Africa, Franklin is almost killed by a native apocalyptic South American cult before joining a group of pirates, while Phineas ends up in Mecca and becomes the world's richest man after founding a new religion.
The Freak Brothers comics include a number of catchphrases that have worked their way into the underground consciousness :
"Dope will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no dope."—Freewheelin' Franklin. The Los Angeles Public Library featured Anne Herbert's modification of the original quote written by Gilbert Shelton: "Books will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no books" and was used on a in-library poster featuring the likeness of the Freewheelin' Franklin character.
"Don't get burned!" (usually aimed at Fat Freddy as he sets out to purchase drugs)
"Smoking grass and drinking beer is like pissing into the wind."
"While you're out there smashing the state, don't forget to keep a smile on your lips and a song in your heart!"
"Keed Spills!" - Fat Freddy: from a 1-page poster (shown above) that parodied the anti-amphetamine campaign phrase "Speed Kills".
In 1973, without permission from Gilbert Shelton, The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers appeared in the full-length pornographic film Up in Flames, although two of them were given different names. The story involved the brothers' attempts to raise cash to make their rent deadline (the trio being in danger of being evicted from their apartment). Fat Freddy gains employment at a local food store run by graphic artist Robert Crumb's character Mr. Natural (also used without permission).
In 2006, the company Grass Roots Films began production on a feature-length clay-animation film based on the series, called Grass Roots, co-produced by German distribution company X Filme. In 2013 work on the film had stopped and conversion of the script to a musical had started.
In The Simpsons episode "The Lastest Gun in the West", ca. 10 min. 56 sec into the episode, all three of the Freak Brothers can be seen in a clip from the 1970s detective show "McTrigger", where they are shot at, and Franklin killed, by the eponymous hero, McTrigger.
In other cartoons
Cartoon characters similar in appearance to the Freak Brothers and styled The Fabulous Furry Fructose Brothers appeared in a 2013 parody cartoon by Jen Sorensen, entitled High Fructose Corn Syrup Times.
A bar and restaurant in Galway, Éire, is named Fat Freddy's and decorated extensively with materials referring to the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers characters, including Fat Freddy's Cat.
List of Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers titles
Titles in the series are often referred to by their number, but almost all of them additionally have a title in words.
Underground Classics (Freak Brothers No.0) (issues 0 to 7 are in black and white)
The Collected Adventures Of... (Freak Brothers No.1)
Further Adventures of those... (Freak Brothers No.2)
A Year Passes Like Nothing (Freak Brothers No.3)
Brother, Can You Spare 75¢ for the... (Freak Brothers No.4)
Grass Roots (Freak Brothers No.5)
Six Snappy Sockeroos (Freak Brothers No.6)
Several Short Stories (Freak Brothers No.7)
The Idiots Abroad, Part I (Freak Brothers No.8) (both color and black and white editions)
The Idiots Abroad, Part II (Freak Brothers No.9) (both color and black and white editions)
The Idiots Abroad, Part III (Freak Brothers No.10) (both color and black and white editions)
Freak Brothers No.11 (both color and black and white editions)
Freak Brothers No.12 (black and white only)
Freak Brothers No.13 (reprints in black and white of stories from Thoroughly Ripped plus new cover and one story never before printed in the US, The Plant.)
Also, there have been two full color books:
Thoroughly Ripped (1978) ISBN 0-89620-077-9 (2 editions, one with the board game, one without)
A number of compilation titles have been published that merge several of the original titles into one book. There have been two large collections, the first reprinting comic book covers in color, the second entirely in color.
The Complete Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, Volume One (2001) ISBN 0-86166-146-X (reprints comic books 0 through 7 and 12)
The Complete Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, Volume Two (2003) ISBN 0-86166-149-4 (reprints comic books 8 - 11 and 13) (note: according to the reverse title pages, the second volume has the same ISBN 0-86166-146-X)