I went to see Gilbert Shelton at the British Library, in conversation with Posy Simmons. They were mostly there to talk about cats – there’s a new exhibition at the library Cats on the Page.
Of course Shelton was there because of Fat Freddy’s Cat (above), a noble and subversive animal, though not bearing much relationship to any real cat. Shelton was far more scholarly than I’d expected him to be, and he did say something I absolutely agree with, that cats don’t really have facial expressions – we simply project our feelings onto them. Cartoon cats of course have the most expressive faces, and indeed gaits, imaginable.
Shelton has always struck me as the most benign and engaging of the underground comix crowd, less consciously transgressive than most. The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers weren’t as hip as they thought they were, or were trying to be, and that was a source of the comedy, and when it came to subversion, dope smoking and a distrust of the police was about as far as it went.
At one point the onstage conversation turned to the various attempts that have been made to animate the Freak Brothers. They certainly have a very specific walking gait, which looks just fine in still cartoons but seems a real problem when it comes to animation. There's this curious teaser floating around on Youtube, which shows you how hard it is to make them walk convincingly, or in fact move at all:
Shelton is about far more than just the Freak Brothers. I was always taken with Philbert Desenex who walked looking like this:
And then turned into Wonder Warthog who in general does more flying than walking, though not always
And digging around online I can across this Shelton image. Trangressive no doubt, and also depicting a very fine, if again unlikely, gait.
And if you're interested, this is what Gilbert Shelton looks like these days: