Gilbert Shelton is the creator of The Fabulous
Furry Freak Brothers. This trio of pot smoking,
horny rebels revolutionized underground comic books in
the 1960’s. 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 wasn’t
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
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
DE: How did the 60‘s San Francisco scene
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
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
DE: Did DC and Marvel ever try to put you down?
GS: Not that I
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
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
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
GS: Fat Freddy's
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; he’s 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
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,
GS: I was happy to
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
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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