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Book Review: Fat Freddy’s Cat Omnibus by Gilbert Shelton

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Gilbert Shelton's Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers — following the misadventures of three dead-end California stoners — is one of the shining lights of the underground comics (comix) scene of the 1960s and 70s, and still stands today as a highpoint in subversive goofiness. One of these characters is the nominal owner of the titular feline of this compendium of counter-cultural cartooning, which details the life (or should that be "lives"?), loves, philosophies and foibles of a streetwise ginger tom cat and his daily struggle with the ineptitude of his human co-habitants in a run-down hovel on the wrong side of town as they seek perpetual self-gratification (usually through the imbibing of marijuana) while dodging the law and generally avoiding contact with any representative of mainstream society who might threaten the sanctity of their dope-fueled refuge from responsibility.

Collecting every Fat Freddy's Cat strip from his first appearance in 1969 up until the early 90s, nearly every page of this Knockabout anthology is a laugh-a-minute grade-A bong hit of comedic cartooning, rendered in the smudgy, heavy-inked style made famous by Shelton and his underground comix contemporaries, such as Robert Crumb and Rick Griffin. The quality of the art varies from strip to strip (clearly due to the re-sizing of many of the stories from small- to medium-format, and is most obvious in the one-page skits and gags that make up a large part of the book) but is never less than adequate to the zany, freewheeling humour that sees Cat shitting on (or in) various of Fat Freddy's possessions, getting wasted on catnip (by his own choice) or on marijuana (usually at the hands of his understandably frustrated owner — no liberal animal rights eulogising here, folks!) or just generally prowling the neighbourhood on the hunt for some instant gratification.

In fact, it's the longer stories featuring the more convoluted adventures of Cat or his alter ego, F. Frederick Skitty, that, despite usually demonstrating the more accomplished draughtsmanship, pale in comparison to the often hilarious one-pagers, which have the urgent, skittish feel of being dashed off in short, fevered bursts of late-night caffeine-fuelled inspiration. There are also some full-colour sections featuring cover art, pin-up style one-offs and the few colour strips to feature the adventures of the flea-bitten sybarite, making this a good-looking and comprehensive guide to the seamier side of feline life in counter-culture America.

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