Gilbert Shelton’s Nephew Gavin Shelton Resurrects Comix Character ‘Poddy’ 

Gilbert Shelton is an American underground comix icon. Now in his early 80’s the creator of self published and distributed characters like “Wonder Warthog” and “The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers” has been getting laughs from around the world beginning in the early 1960s. Fast-forward to 2021 and Shelton’s “Freak Brothers” have recently enjoyed renewed attention after being adapted into an animated series on Tubi, featuring the talents of Woody Harrelson (Freewheelin’ Franklin Freek), John Goodman (Fat Freddy Freekowtski), Pete Davidson (Phineas T. Phreakers), and Tiffany Haddish (Kitty) among other Hollywood veterans.

Gilbert Shelton’s career in cartooning began in 1961 with the creation of his character “Wonder Warthog.” The porcine antihero was a satire of mid-century super hero comics and began getting published around the country in college humor magazines. 1968 then saw the arrival of his famous trio, “The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers” whose satirical misadventures helped Americans laugh through an era of social and political turbulence. 

In 1969 Gilbert joined a growing contingency of Texans moving to San Francisco and launched the Rip Off Press with his friends Fred Todd, Dave Moriaty, and Jack Jackson. Facing issues with censorship, FBI intimidation, distribution issues, and local obscenity ordinances they pressed on to publish and distribute satirical material that championed the freedom of artistic expression and flew in the face of the oppressive Comic Code Authority. Gilbert went on to join Robert Crumb’s all-star cast of ZAP contributors which also included S. Clay Wilson, Robert Williams, Spain Rodriguez, Victor Moscoso, and Rick Griffin. The ZAP collective went on to warp minds and define counterculture comix, eventually releasing 17 issues over 46 years.

Gilbert’s nephew, Gavin Shelton has been working on a research project about his cartoonist uncle since the beginning of COVID. “During lockdown I got to research and learn so much about the cultural context of what was going on at the time, when all those comics were created,” Gavin Shelton tells High Times. “Although the 60’s seem like a time of peace, love, and flowers in reality, it was very culturally repressed and conservative. The social tension that existed seems like it’s cyclical, and today we’re seeing it today in a different form.”

Gavin Shelton, Blake Anderson, and Pete Davidson

In 1969, High Times founder Thomas King Forçade ran the Underground Press Syndicate which included the East Village Other, Berkeley Barb, Los Angeles Free Press, Fifth Estate, the Rag, and others. This network of independent publications reported primality on the antiwar movement and gave a platform to under-represented voices, freely trading and publishing each other’s content. Gilbert’s work made its way into pages of Underground newspapers which offered some humor to publications that reported on the often violent changing social norms of the era.

Paul Mavrides, who drew the Freak Brothers with Shelton for 25 years, told High Times in 2022 he remembers meeting Forçade when he publicly announced the founding of the magazine at the National Alternative and Underground Press Convention held in Boulder, Colorado in 1973. The Freak Brothers were featured on the cover of High Times multiple times, including the 18th issue in February 1977, when the magazine was just three years into publication.

Who is Poddy?

During his research Gavin learned about Gilbert’s earliest character, “Poddy Passumquoddy,” whom Gilbert would graffiti around Houston, Texas as a teenager in the 1950’s. The squat character brandishing an anteater-like tongue and a 23¢ piece would appear on walls and billboards around town with the call to arms, “Poddy Rules the World!”.

“As a teenager Gilbert would read MAD magazine and the New Yorker,” Gavin explains. “Virgil Partch was one of the number one gag cartoonists of the era and would parody Picasso by flattening the perspective and painting both eyes on the same side of the nose. Gilbert was inspired by that style and soon Poddy Passumquoddy began to appear all around Houston.” Inspired by his uncle’s early street art Gavin has restarted Paddy’s conquests with stickers (available on his website) and stencils, cataloging his adventures on Instagram @PoddyRulesTheWorld.

Poddy and Tommy Chong

The connections between the underground comix world and street art are undeniable. Gavin explained that he managed to connect with a fellow fan of Gilbert’s—anonymous French street artist Invader, who creates pixelated mosaics that reference 8-bit video games and who installed a stylized tribute to Shelton’s character “Fat Freddy’s Cat” in Paris. “Putting up a sticker or spraying a stencil is an act of minor civil disobedience,” Shelton says. Connecting with the famous street artist has encouraged the younger Shelton’s efforts. “It feels gratifying to be carrying on something that Gilbert started so long ago.”

He intends to take the research and original artwork that he’s found and present it as a traveling art exhibition. “My mission is to be able to show him through this project, how many people here in the United States, 60+ years later still love and cherish his work. For many of his fans the comix are like passports to the excitement and adventurousness of their youth, and I’d like to offer them an experience that lets them relive a bit of that while also bringing in new readers. I want Gilbert to see how many people still recognize and love his work because of how funny and relevant it still is,” Shelton says.

The post Gilbert Shelton’s Nephew Gavin Shelton Resurrects Comix Character ‘Poddy’  appeared first on High Times.


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