“We were Texas hippies, a proud but pitiful bunch”

Those Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers by Gilbert Shelton became famous through their underground comix books, but got their start down in the Texas alternative lifestyle of 1967.

True heads know that the three Freak Brothers—Phineas, Freewheelin’ Franklin, and Fat Freddy—were born in Austin in 1967. Shelton wrote cartoons for an underground weekly called The Rag, and hung out with famous or soon-to-be-famous authors including Billy Lee Brammer, Bud Shrake, Jan Reid, and Gary Cartwright. He also worked on the University of Texas at Austin student humor magazine, The Texas Ranger, with editors Bill Helmer (a future Texas Monthly scribe), Lynn Ashby, and Hugh Lowe.

His buddies included fellow cartoonists Jack “Jaxon” Jackson; Tony Bell, with whom Shelton created the superhero parody Wonder Wart-Hog; and Frank Stack (a.k.a. Foolbert Sturgeon). This crew hung out in the Student Union cafeteria and the venerable Austin restaurant Scholz Garten. They wrote and they drew. They were Texas freaks, a more exotic breed than the ubiquitous San Francisco freaks, and they were a vital part of the early underground comix scene.

The strip from the poster as seen in
The Collected Freak Brothers (1971)
© Gilbert Shelton

Shelton actually conceived of the Freak Brothers to help promote a film. In 1967, he was the art director for a famed Congress Avenue music venue, the Vulcan Gas Company. The Vulcan also showed films, including a five-minute short called Texas Hippies March on the Capitol. Shelton’s promo poster, featuring the Freak Brothers, proved more popular than the film it was promoting, and the Brothers soon had their own strip in The Rag.

Chris Vognar, for Texas Monthly, reviews the new animated TV show (“The new show has a strong premise that’s derailed by cheap laughs”), though the most interresting part is his take on the original underground comix strips and comix books.