When Gilbert Shelton’s Fabulous Furry Freaks And Poddy Ruled The World!

Looking at Shelton’s early street art hero, the grinning pot-bellied Poddy Passumquoddy

Gilbert Shelton (born May 31, 1940) is an American cartoonist and a key member of the underground comix movement. He is the creator of the characters The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers and Fat Freddy’s Cat, and a co-founder of Rip Off Press in San Francisco in 1969.


Gilbert Shelton pictured in his studio in Paris in 1992 working on the artwork for a Fat Freddy’s Cat story that was published in FFC No. 7.

Shelton first achieved success in the early 1960s with his Wonder Warthog comics, a satire of the superhero comics of the era that debuted in the March 1962 issue of Bacchanal, the magazine founded by staffers of the University of Texas’ Texas Ranger humour magazine who had been fired for publishing a forbidden word.



On May 6 1968 Shelton’s antiestablishment The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers made their debut in the pages of The Rag, an underground newspaper in Austin, Texas (see above and below). In the years since, their misadventures have sold over 46 million comics in over 16 languages.



Before that, some of Shelton’s illustrations had been published in the March 1959 issue of the Texas Ranger when he was 18 (below).


Gilbert Shelton in the March 1959 issue of the Texas Ranger humor magazine at the University of Texas

Poddy Rules The World!

But before all that Shelton had created a graffiti character that he painted on the side of Austin fairground’s water tower. Below the image, the message declared: “Poddy Rules the World”.

Poddy was Poddy Passumquoddy, a pot-bellied man inspired by New Yorker illustrator Virgil Parrch. The graffiti was prolific enough to attract the attention of the local authorities. A syndicated newspaper report of December 1958 told readers across the US:

‘Poddy’ May Be Ruling From Inside of Prison

Here’s some word for the chap who calls himself “Poddy” and likes to proclaim with paint that he “rules the world”. Painting those signs on public buildings can put you behind bars — not jail but prison.

Police Commissioner Robert L Mawhinney, not amused by Poddy’s pranks, cited a state law applicable to them. In effect, it says anyone who burns destroys or injures a public building is liable to imprisonment of not more than 25 years.

The commissioner pointed out another law permits the owner of defaced real property to collect damages.

Recently the state fairground’s huge above-ground water reservoir was painted with “Poddy Rules the World”. Later ,across the porous rock side of police headquarters, was emblazoned “Poddy Still Rules”. Mail boxes and other places In the city have had similar treatment.

poddy rules the world

Above: Shelton’s early street art hero, Poddy Passumquoddy, makes a cameo appearance in his first ever comic book Feds ‘N’ Heads which was self-published in 1968.


Poddy’s Return


Poddy Rules The World Exhibition Advert

Poddy Rules The World! was the name given to the first-ever retrospective exhibition of Shelton’s work held at Hed Hi Studios in Charleston, South Carolina. Curated by Gilbert’s nephew, Gavin Shelton, the show looked at the issues Gilbert was making comics about, such as police brutality, drugs, especially cannabis culture, and trust in government.

“One of Gilbert’s most popular phrases in the Freak Brothers, which just reverberated through cultures: ‘Dope will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no dope’,” says Gavin. “That has left an indelible mark on generations of Americans who first were living through Vietnam and are now living through all the successive shit shows we’ve been experiencing as a country.”

He adds: “Super left-leaning folks read The Freak Brothers and they’re like, this totally speaks to us. And then super right leaning folks read The Freak Brothers and like, dude, that’s 100% me, like anti-authoritarianism, distrust of the government. If you can make somebody laugh, you immediately disarm them. You can get them to be more open to discussing the issues.”



Gilbert Shelton Biography: Dead Heads And Blotters

Shelton was born in Houston, Texas. He graduated from the city’s Lamar High School, attended Washington and Lee University, Texas A&M University and the University of Texas at Austin, where in 1961 he received his bachelor’s degree in social sciences. His early cartoons were published in the University of Texas’ humor magazine The Texas Ranger.


A self-portrait sketch by #GilbertShelton from 1980

After graduation, Shelton moved to New York City and got a job editing automotive magazines, where he would work his drawings into print. Early work of his was published in Warren Publishing’s Help! The idea for the character of Wonder Wart-Hog, a parody of Superman, came to him in 1961.

In 1962, Shelton moved back to Texas to enrol in graduate school and get a student deferment from the draft. The first two Wonder Wart-Hog stories appeared in Bacchanal, a short-lived college humor magazine, in the spring of 1962. That same year, he published (in zine form) Frank Stack’s The New Adventures of Jesus, one of the first underground comix.

Shelton became editor of The Texas Ranger and published more Wonder Wart-Hog stories.


Original artwork by Gilbert Shelton and Tony Bell for a page in the Wonder Warthog story “Wonder Wart-Hog vs. the Pie Man” that was published in Pete Millar’s Drag Cartoons


Original artwork by #GilbertShelton in 1978 for his surrealist #WonderWarthog epic “Philbert Desanex’ 100,000th Dream”.

After changing from graduate school to art school (where he befriended singer Janis Joplin), he was finally drafted. However, Army doctors declared him medically unfit after he admitted to taking psychedelic drugs. After this, in 1964 and 1965, he spent some time in Cleveland, and applied for a job at the American Greeting Card Company (where fellow underground comic artist Robert Crumb had worked) but was turned down.


The album cover art by Gilbert Shelton fro thee Grateful Dead’s Shakedown Street. The front cover features the cartoonist’s reimagining of the San Rafael warehouse district where the band had their practice and storage facility.The back cover features the “Invisible Pimp”,.

From 1965 to 1968 Shelton lived in New York, working for the East Village Other, and in Los Angeles, where he worked for the Los Angeles Free Press. He was art director for the Vulcan Gas Company music venue in Austin. In 1968, he relocated to San Francisco, where he entered the world of underground comix.


Freak Brothers rolling papers



Blotter art featuring #FatFreddysCat. This illustration appeared on the back cover of #FatFreddysCat No. 1 in 1976

Blotter art featuring #FatFreddysCat. This illustration appeared on the back cover of #FatFreddysCat No. 1 in 1976

A #FabulousFurryFreakBrothers $50,000 bill design by #DaveSheridan from 1971.

A Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers $50,000 bill design by Dave Sheridan from 1971.

Gilbert Shelton

Gilbert Shelton and Paul Mavrides pictured with masked members of the ROP crew back when they operated across the street from the Bottom Of The Hill trucker bar (now music venue) near Potrero Hill in San Francisco.

In 1968, Shelton self-published Feds ‘n’ Heads, a collection of strips first published in the Austin paper The Rag. Feds ‘n’ Heads featured Wonder Wart-Hog and The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers. In 1969, Shelton created Fat Freddy’s Cat, when he also co-founded Rip Off Press with fellow Texans: Fred Todd, Dave Moriaty and cartoonist Jack Jackson.


An early Rip Off Press advertisement featuring illustrations by Gilbert Shelton along with some of their earliest offerings.

An illustrated advertisement for the Rip Off Press by #GilbertShelton

Shelton was also a regular contributor to Zap Comix and other underground titles, including Bijou Funnies, Yellow Dog, Arcade, The Rip Off Review of Western Culture and Anarchy Comics. He did the cover art for the 1973 album Doug Sahm and Band, as well as The Grateful Dead’s 1978 album, Shakedown Street.

Shelton and his wife, literary agent Lora Fountain, left San Francisco in 1979. They were residents of Barcelona, Spain, in 1980–1981, and moved to France in 1984. He continues to live and work in Paris.



Bio via Austin Museum of Pop Culture.

Check out Poddy Rules the World on Instagram

Would you like to support Flashbak?

Please consider making a donation to our site. We don't want to rely on ads to bring you the best of visual culture. You can also support us by signing up to our Mailing List. And you can also follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. For great art and culture delivered to your door, visit our shop.