Don’t let that 1973 fool you.  This is a comic of the 1960s, even though it’s stayed in print ever since, and it features one of the great U.S. fictional heroes: Fat Freddy’s Cat!  Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers #3 awaits!


Writer: Gilbert Shelton
Penciler: Gilbert Shelton
Inker: Gilbert Shelton
Letterer: Gilbert Shelton
Editor: Uncredited
Publisher: Rip Off Press 
Cover Price: 50 Cents/ 60 Cents/ 75 Cents/ $1.00/ $1.25/ $1.50/ $2.00/ $2.50/ $2.95/ $3.25/ $3.95
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $40.00
Release Date: February 11, 1974

Previously in The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers: Debuting circa 1968 in underground newspapers, the Freak Brothers (Freewheelin’ Franklin Freek, the  streetwise one, Phineas T. Phreak, the smart one, and Fat Freddy Freekoswtski, the fat one) negotiated the wilds of the Hippie generation, with adult themes all around.  Sex, drugs and depravity were their bailiwick, and if rumors of an animated series starring Woody Harrelson, Pete Davison and Tiffany Haddish hold true, they will probably continue to be forever.  Of course, given that the thirteen odd (VERY odd) issues of comix that make up this series have remained continuously in publication for fifty years, it’s not like they’ve ever really gone away.  And as for their artistic aspirations, this issue’s cover features a lovely take on Manet’s Le Dejeuner sur l’Herbe, a classic 19th century painting which was criticized for its “vulgar” subject matter, which is absolutely intentional on Gilbert Shelton’s part.

Still, we’re not here to talk about the brothers, per se, but their most famous supporting character: Fat Freddy’s Cat!

Most of the time, the kitty is seen in his own adventures, appearing as a “topper” strip intentionally homaging the earliest appearances of Krazy Kat earlier in the century.  Many of those strips paralleled but didn’t actually interact with the main page strips, featuring Freddy, Frank and Phineas trying to get high, get naked or similar.  The Cat, however, has a broader range, even if it’s somehow even more coarse, thanks to his animal nature.  Cat also has a running rivalry with the mice and cockroaches that inhabit the Freak’s rundown hovel of a home.

As someone who fell backwards into a complete run of this comic, albeit all third printings or higher, the real secret of its longevity is Shelton’s humor.  The Texas cockroach slapping around The Cat reminds me of classic Tom & Jerry cartoons, and while the Freaks are fat, lazy, stupid, high and criminal, or some agglomeration thereof, they feel somehow realer than most characters.  The depth and textures of his panels are likewise remarkable.  The reason I picked this issue though, was the first appearance of Cat’s recurring ruminations of his days as undercover superspy, F. Frederick Skitty.

As with any material five decades old, though, you’re going to run into things that haven’t aged all that well.  Skitty is sent to end the distribution of a drug that turns people gay, which is uncomfortable, but at least the joke ends up being a quick punchline rather than an ongoing hate crime.  Skitty seeks out the Hee Hee Hee production facility, only to find himself in a nudist colony (an excuse for Shelton to draw naked women), then realize he’s at the wrong house.

Once more we see how good Gilbert Shelton is at telling a story, and the use of deep blacks and cross-hatching brings it all to glorious, if inappropriate life.  The first two issues of Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers were 100+ page affairs, collecting years of material, but with this issue things settle down to a more traditional (for the era, anyway) 36 pages.  Returning to Washington, F. Frederick Skitty is forced to break the bad news that the Hee Hee Hee is in the nation’s coffee supply to The Chief, clearly designed in the image of the late J. Edgar Hoover.

This huge pack of lies story wraps up to reveal that Skitty is telling the story to his three nephews, another cartoon reference, wrapping up with a Pinocchio reference to bring the joke home.  This issue is filled with short strips, some half a page, some a single page, but this seven-pager, entitled I Led Nine Lives, is the longest and the best.  The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers #3 is not going to be for everyone, as it’s depictions of drug use, sex and sociopolitical views are firmly stuck in the early ’70s, but Shelton is a very talented, very funny cartoonist and makes even the unpleasant parts of the issue go down relatively smoothly, earning 3.5 out of 5 stars overall.  When it comes to underground comix, Shelton’s name is one of


Spelled With An 'X'

It's the top of the underground comix heap, and the humor and humanity still hold up today, even if some of the source material hasn't aged gracefully. Like Phineus Phreak always says, "Don't get burned!"

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Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture! And a nice red uniform.

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