On the eve of the 50th Anniversary of their first compilation in 2021, The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers are poised to become bigger than ever with a new animated series backed by A-list voice talent dropping this Fall, or harvest season as The Freaks would see it.
The Freak Brothers originally launched in 1968, centered around a three-man quest for various drugs with a dash of social commentary, then dropped their first compilation a few years later. But their love of cannabis was certainly most apparent. It’s almost a blessing that previous efforts to bring them back to life over the years fell short so they could be a bright spot in 2020 just ahead of their anniversary.
Over the course of The Freak Brothers quarter-century print run, creator Gilbert Shelton created a different kind of comic book following. Something that was not only hilarious but simply more relatable than getting special powers or saving the world; it was for the numerous stoners looking to get a laugh.
The reputation The Freak Brothers built in their heyday helped pull a top-shelf cast for the reboot that includes Woody Harrelson as Freewheelin’ Franklin Freek, John Goodman as Fat Freddy Freekowtski, Tiffany Haddish as Fat Freddy’s iconic cat, and Pete Davidson as Phineas T. Phreakers. Adam Devine and Blake Anderson will also voice two new characters and serve as Executive Producers.
Alan Cohen and Alan Freedland (King of the Hill, American Dad) will serve as showrunners, writers and executive producers alongside Courtney Solomon (AFTER, Mr. Church, An American Haunting, CAKE) and Mark Canton (former chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment’s Columbia Tri-Star Motion Picture Companies, 300, POWER the series).
While a solid group, it’s safe to say Solomon is the man that brought The Freak Brothers back to life after an old comic popped up in his storage 20 years since his first experience with Phineas, Fat Freddy and Freewheelin’ Franklin.
Solomon got his foot in the door back in the day, bringing a famed franchise back to life with Dungeons and Dragons in his 20s before amassing a giant film catalog over the years. But he’s been a Freak Brothers fan since the late ’80s, while he was on a backpacking trip in Europe.
“Well, see I was 17,” Solomon told L.A. Weekly. “I’m originally from Canada, and we were backpacking through Europe and of course, you know, being nice 17-year-old Canadian boys we had to stop in Amsterdam for two days.”
Solomon and friends found their way to the red light district after they smoked some hash and explored the sights after taking the recommendation from locals. They quickly realized much of the area was not for them and decided to go back to smoking hash. In a moment that would echo through time, Solomon would pick up his Freak Brothers Annual at a headshop on his way back to the coffee shop. They spent four more hours smoking hash and cracking up over the Freak Brothers’ exploits on their quest for the good herb.
Two years ago a couch surfing friend that was mid-divorce offered to organize Solomon’s storage since it fell in his skillset and he’d been sleeping on the office couch for a couple of months. One day Solomon found The Freak Brothers comic he’d originally scored in Amsterdam sitting on his desk after the cleanup.
“I kept it all those years but it was in my storage space,” Solomon said as he pointed to how quickly he realized how giant cannabis was at the moment.
He knew there was nothing comparable to the Freak Brothers in the space that is “authentic cannabis more for the cannabis people, I mean there’s just no entertainment,” he said. “I’m not going to say there’s not that “you know how to cook” with cannabis, you know, that kind of stuff. But there’s nothing like this, pop culture, and The Freaks are the originals.”
Solomon knew now was the time for the reboot, maybe 10 or 15 years ago wasn’t the right time for the Freak Brothers to end their hiatus, but now nearly 70 percent of Americans support legalization. To make his new dream a reality, he’d first have to find The Freak Brothers creator Gilbert Shelton.
After six months of searching for the elusive artist, Solomon was able to track down Shelton to the outskirts of Paris thanks to his lawyer of 47 years. “Super nice guy named Manfred, and he set up the meeting and I flew out to Paris and spent a couple of days with Gilbert,” he said.
Right off the bat, Shelton let Solomon know he was weary of Hollywood after seeing previous attempts to adapt The Freak Brothers take years and fall apart. At one point the Freaks were in a holding pattern at Universal for five years.
“And that didn’t pan out, so he was sort of like, ‘I’m not sure anyone can do it right,” Solomon said. “But more so he just didn’t believe anybody would actually do it. You know, he just saw Hollywood talk.”
Since the moment Solomon first laid eyes on Shelton’s roach-stuffed ashtray and they came to a deal outside Paris, the 80-year-old has been involved in the process. “I think he really wanted to finally see it get done while he’s still alive, and we keep him involved,” Solomon said. “We send the script in and then we send the stuff to him, you know, the creative as far as the designs for the characters and the animation looks, and the universe look and all that stuff as a courtesy. And he gives us comments, he’s very opinionated.”
According to Solomon, it’s kind of a back and forth between, “this is how we did it,” and keeping The Freak Brothers as close as possible to their original selves through the transition. One of the biggest shifts was turning Fat Freddy’s cat into an African-American woman in a quest to update the show for the diversity of the times.
“Because we can’t change the three guys because it’s too much of a variation to the IP, obviously, but there’s a place where you know we could do something, and you know, the cat was clearly male in the comic book there’s no question about it,” Solomon said.
Shelton knew some of his original fans were going to be really pissed about that but told Solomon eventually he thinks they’ll come to understand why it needs to happen and greenlit the plan, essentially the biggest change from the original comic strip. “You know there were other tweaks and stuff along the way but for the most part, for the look of how we made the universe, the look how we made the animation, he’s been super happy and loves how the animation came out.”
The ultimate goal of that animation effort was a modern retro look that’s trippy enough to meet The Freak Brothers’ needs, even if the drugs won’t be quite as wild as in the comics. Solomon felt apart from how ridiculous the concept of a live-action movie sounded, he knew that animation would provide an affordable production medium for The Freak Brothers to go on the adventures that made them famous.
“I wanted to be able to do a bunch of the cool things that were done in the comic books and even go to other places the comic books didn’t go,” Solomon said. “And so the medium allowed that for us. And yes, the look of it is, you know, I’d say even better as far as the feel of the show and the universe we created there. I mean the color scheme, it exceeded my expectations.”
Solomon noted how hyped the refined animation minds of Alan Cohen and Alan Freedland are about the original feel and look. “That’s what we love about it, it’s unique. And certainly, we don’t hold any bars and like, we don’t pull any punches, as far as what we do content-wise. The Freaks have to be The Freaks.”
We asked Solomon which of the Freak Brothers he most identified with.
“I gotta say that I’m somewhere between a Franklin and a Phineas,” Solomon replied after clarifying the question with a chuckle. “I’m pretty laid back, most of the time so that’s where I fall. But you know, I am the scientist and I am the one with all these sorts of theories, like Phineas. So I’m somewhere in the middle of those two guys. Honestly, I’m not really Fat Freddy but I love Fat Freddy’s Cat.”
Writing the quips for Freddy’s cat has been one of the funniest parts of the production process. Soloman said once they had Haddish on board it took the lines they knew were funny to a whole new level thanks to her delivery.
The Freak Brothers are now a year removed from their Comic-Con 2019 launch, where they didn’t even have a cast yet and did very little promotion. We asked Solomon, a Comic-Con veteran, what he thought of the reception last year with The Freak Brothers being something that is so fun and different at its core compared to lightsabers and superheroes?
He replied that at that moment they decided to break the news, they didn’t have much. “We were just deep in the writers’ room and the early designs, and knew it was all happening,” Solomon said.
“We wanted to go to Comic-Con and tell the audience at Comic-Con first because that’s just seemed like the right thing to do. And so, we didn’t make a big plan or the usual events that go on there, And they ended up putting us into this big hall,” Solomon said. 800 people would show up to hear the news.
Solomon believes in today’s comic book universe, The Freak Brothers are seen as the high end of the underground comic scene. “There were certain underground comics that lived in their own thing and they’re not Marvel, they’re not DC, but they have their own unique very very very hardcore and loyal following,” Solomon said.
As for working with the wild lineup of voice actors that eventually came onboard. “Woody is awesome. Tiffany is awesome. Adam and Blake are obviously great. Pete Davidson has been amazing to work with and John is just a treasure,” said Solomon, who is excited to announce some more additions to the cast in the months to come before the full series drops with eight 22-minute episodes. This will be a great upgrade from the short teasers we’ve been getting. Solomon plans on the entire first season being ready by the end of November.
They plan on announcing where people will actually be able to watch The Freak Brothers in the next couple of months. They wanted to make it as modern as possible when it comes to how the Freaks are distributed, but not at the risk of having an impact on what they can do with the content.
There had been some rumblings in cannabis circles about the possibility of some weed products to go along with the series, but there are some obvious hurdles with state law around animated characters and cannabis. We asked Solomon if there was any truth to the rumors, and how they would plan to navigate state law.
Solomon said the main merchandise focus at the moment had been on things like shirts, bongs and rolling papers, but they’d certainly been approached by folks about the subject of Freak Brothers official weed. Solomon said as long as you don’t use the animated characters you could actually do a cannabis line if you wanted to, “just call it Freak Brothers, it wouldn’t be the characters obviously on it because you can’t do that, but you could license it to a cannabis company,” Solomon said. But he emphasized they’re not a weed company, “we’ve definitely thought about it and talked about it, looked at some designs for it, but you know we haven’t done anything with it yet,” he said.
Solomon’s main focus at the moment is making a solid show but, “if we ever did do it, we’d make sure it was really like high-end stuff that only they would smoke.”