February 20, 2018


Gilbert Shelton

By Dan Epstein


Gilbert Shelton is the creator of The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers. This trio of pot smoking, horny rebels revolutionized underground comic books in the 1960s. Most of the strips were just reprinted in a new book released from Rip Off Press last month.

Reading the Freak Brothers brings you back to a time when the weed was cheap, sex wasnt dangerous and amyl nitrate was easy to get. I interviewed Gilbert by email and found him as pleasant as some good panama red.


Dan Epstein: What do you think of underground comics today?

Gilbert Shelton: I'm sort of out of touch with underground comics today. I still think of Peter Bagge and Dan Clowes as the new guys.

DE: How did the 60s San Francisco scene influence you?

GS: Well, it was interesting living in San Francisco in the 60's and 70's, working at Rip Off Press where we published work by most of the underground cartoonists. I guess the most important influence was that it turned my attention away from working with newspapers and toward doing comic books.

DE: How much of what you did with comics back then tie into the music and culture?

GS: Not much of a tie-in. I did a couple of album covers, and a couple of art galleries had exhibitions of comic strips, and maybe there were a few other examples of minor selling-out.

DE: Why underground comics?

GS: That was just the term that came to be used, somewhat inaccurately, since there was nothing secret about what we did. We preferred the word "alternative."

DE: How big was your audience?

GS: Not a mass audience, but not real small either. In the tens of millions, if you reckon by the number of books sold. It could be, however, that a much smaller number of intensely loyal readers were purchasing multiple copies.

DE: Did DC and Marvel ever try to put you down?

GS: Not that I know of.

DE: Were you a part of drug or hippie culture or just appealing to it?

GS: I was of the age in-between beatnik and hippie. I'm not sure how much I felt myself a part of any culture. Almost everyone my age smoked marijuana.

DE: Did you get many girls specifically because of comic books?

GS: Well, uh, no, I don't think it works that way. I did, however, meet my wife Lora on the beach in Los Angeles, while I was sitting there drawing The Freak Brothers.

DE: It's now 35 years later. What do you think of the culture you begat?

GS: I didn't beget no culture.

DE: When you look back at yourself would you have predicted the scene to become what it is?

GS: The Freak Brothers were so successful I thought that others would do similar things in the self-publishing field, but that was just a fluke.

DE: Obviously drugs were a big part of your work but how much did drugs influence you?

GS: Drugs have conceivably gotten me through many a long day, but I don't believe any drugs permanently changed my way of thinking. It's other people's attitude toward drugs that was the greatest influence.

DE: Which one of the Freak Brothers is closest to you?

GS: Fat Freddy's Cat.

DE: Do you have cats now?

GS: Yes. Their names are Woolly Bully and Fat Lady.

DE: What did you do to your cat growing up?

GS: I didn't like cats when I was a kid, although I never killed or tortured any. When I got to be older, I learned to speak the cat's language. The cats subsequently taught me everything I know of any importance.

DE: I got my cat high one time; hes never been the same. What did yours do?

GS: My cats tell me that cats don't enjoy taking drugs, so I don't insist. I have seen cats nibbling on pot plants with no discernable effects on the animal.

DE: Why are living in Paris? Are you more popular there?

GS: I'm just continuing my education. I'm a fifth-level celebrity here. What's my rank back in the U.S.?

DE: What was growing up in Houston, Texas like?

GS: I was happy to leave.

DE: Who were your favorite books and comic books growing up?

GS: I haven't finished growing up yet. I liked Donald Duck (the ones by Carl Barks only) and John Stanley's Little Lulu when I was a pre-teenager, and E.C. Comics after I discovered them at age thirteen.

Jules Feiffer's Sick Sick Sick and Harvey Kurtzman's Jungle Book, later.

Jack Kerouac's On the Road was very inspirational.

DE: You lived with Terry Gilliam in New York; did you two ever work together?

GS: I was staying at Terry Gilliam's apartment in New York for a few weeks. I don't think the two of us actually worked on anything together. A bunch of us were sort of playing around with eight-millimeter film animation things, and doing stuff for Harvey Kurtzman's Help! magazine, where Terry was associate editor.

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