Hanging Out With the Freak Brothers

shelton at drawing board
Gilbert Shelton at his European 'Freak' central.

Warm and Dry With Shelton and Pic

Paris:- Wednesday, 15. April 1998:- It is not raining so hard I can actually say pigs are falling out of the sky, but it is getting on the verge of piglets. Last week I did beaver work and was laid low for it and I intend to dodge all animals this week.

As it is freaky-weather it is also time to visit the Freak Brothers. Other people used to say they were 'going to goof off,' and it was as witless as it sounds. 'Visiting the Freak Brothers' is downright positive; and luckily for me they live in Paris.

On the way, deep underground in the métro, it is impossible to hear the rain, let alone falling piglets. I pass métro station Rue Montmartre for what may be the next to last time.

When the 'Météor' line opens next summer, joining Madeleine to the very Grand bibliothèque at Tolbiac, this station will become 'Grands-Boulevards' and visitors will quit being disappointed they are not at the foot of Montmartre after coming out of it. If they don't get off here, they will wonder what they are doing at the new and monumental library instead.

After République, the stations on the line nine are showing gleaming new, white tiles. The place Voltaire is as big and rain-swept as I imagine it will be. Because I think I mis-named the Mairie here - not the 12th, but the 11th - I give it a quick look and grab a copy of 'Paris' magazine, 11th arrondissement edition.

There is a poster for 'Festival Onze' and I ask about this and get directed around into the courtyard, where I find a trestle-table office, full of the planning for the coming 'festival.' The poster I saw was for last year's edition, which had almost as many events as spectators.

What a hive of activity! I am able to actually sit down to be briefed by the press person; with everybody else in the room donating bits the press person is unaware of - and there are somedetail not quite dead no1 unknown to all. Every 90 seconds a telephone falls on the floor and the 18th to do this, smashes to bits. Doesn't matter; another eleven are left - all ringing.

Twenty-two press organs have signed up to cover the event. Since I am the first to offer worldwide publicity, Metropole is gaily added to the list.

Detail from cover of 'Not Quite Dead' number one.

On 2. June, I don't want to miss the premiere of 'Amistice au Pont de Grenelle,' which is supposed to be about the meeting between the President-General of the gardiennes of the 15th and the General-Secretary of the concierges of the same arrondissement, meeting on neutral territory in the centre of the Pont de Grenelle; a sort of 'Tragalger' with sparks. Whew!

With this in hand I go over to the other side of the place to check out a café to see if it could be a suitable location for passing an entire rainy afternoon. It has about 240-degree coverage and three entries, a bar and corners, and hidden terraces, and I think it will do fine. Last year I thought it would be perfect for the May Day parade, if the parade came by this way, but it didn't.

Down, or is it up? Boulevard Voltaire, a few blocks, I circle the Bar Zip a couple of times before deciding it looks too gloomy to be zippy, and I go back and around the gymnasium to get to the Freak Brothers' headquarters.

It is the gloomiest day I have ever been here, so, of course, the place looks all that more prosperous and tidy, and not at all abandoned like last time when the sun was shining.

'Frappez Fort' says the tiny, hand-lettered sign. Doing this makes a curtain in the door's window show a triangle-space with an eyeball at about the level of my knee-cap, and three sets of bolts snap loose. The door then has to be wrestled open as the bolts were holding it up and it doesn't have to be re-bolted because it is sitting on its bottom when closed.

A great deal of the confusing litter is gone from the tiny front room on the one-time shop. It now looks like a midget WWI museum display area without many objects, and none relating to the war. We do not linger here longer than it takes the 1.5 strides to leave it.

The great cleaning lady of our flowers has been in the atelier-cum-relaxo-lounge too. The room does have contours, edges, planes, spaces, surfaces, order, decor, drawing tables, two working chairs, a bar stool and a three-place leather sofa, on which two people could sit, if they were so inclined.

shelton drawingThe volume of the musical ambiance is loud enough to explain the 'Frappez Fort' on the door and I do not exactly hear what the service galley has to offer beyond café, Perrier, beer... but I can see the 700-odd bottle-collection of airline shot-bottles down at the back by the frigo is still in place, behind the palm fronds that are straining up towards the overhead window vents.

The secret? Shelton used real pencil with real paper, to create characters.

'Father' of the Freak Brothers, Gilbert Shelton, has his drawing station facing the front of the shop, facing a wall, and his partner, Pic, is working facing the hallway wall, 90 degrees to Shelton's left.

I take up a position, with the bar stool as an anchor, at 45 degrees between them, on the dance-floor, so I can talk to their shoulders by only turning my head 30 degrees in either direction. I briefly consider the sofa, but it is quite low and offers a view of Pic's back in one direction and Shelton's in the other. It doesn't look quite big enough for a good nap either.

This is the first time I've been here that they been working and the first time I've met Pic, although Shelton mentioned him five years ago. The outside is far away and there is no noticeable traffic noise, although there is a rumble in the feet occasionally from the métro, somewhere underneath.

The two are not working hard and the music is good - there's a five-CD changer - and it is not cold. They are working about three days a week on - I don't know exactly - maybe the next issuepic relaxing of the 'Not Quite Dead' comic story of the 'world's most experienced rock band.' There seems to be little urgency about it; it seems to be the way they want it.

The high-tech area is strictly for taking breaks; working out kinks.

I am not very urgent about anything either. I have some specific things on my mind; but I have already decided I am pushing nothing today and am just going to pass some time here with idle chit-chat if I can get away with it. This seems to be agreeable to all concerned.

Since it is not clear, Pic says very clearly he is 'a Parisian' when I ask him. Some music goes by and I ask, from where? and he sort of shouts, "From the South!" He says this so forcefully I think he is talking about the Pyrenees. But it is "the 14th!" and he says it like it is the Texas part of Paris. I find this very impressive; I have never heard it said this way before. Pic tells me about the French kicking-boxing he used to see in the Gymnase Japy across the way.

Shelton and I go back a long way together - to the early '60's - but we did not meet in person until about five years ago, after we had both been living in Paris a for long time.

We both have a lot of miles on our clocks, but I have a feeling we are not going to go into these in any great detail. They are about how we got here and may be less important than what comes next - if anything.

I'm not quite sure why, but Shelton arranges for me to have a telephone conversation with Gary, which turns out to be long because Gary is apparently the model for the 'Not Quite Dead' rock band and it is a long story which seems to have no end.

Gary sounds anything but nearly dead, but he is definitely bewildered about the fact that rock joints pay about 25 percent less for the 'real thing' than they did eight years ago.

Rock is like a liberal religion and Gary has discovered that it can actually sell out in the suburbs in place like Mantes-la-Jolie. The downside to this is the gas required for the Cadillac's round-trip doesn't leave much in the way of grocery money at the end of the gig.

Don't get me wrong; I don't thinkhouse bar Shelton and Pic are making a great fortune out of the story of the 'Not Quite Dead' cartoon series either. Luckily, they do not have to buy Cadillac gas and go out late at night to hard-to-find places; they sit where it is warm and dry and the CD-player does its non-stop thing without fuss, or any three plays for a quarter.

The vast and tidy house bar, features mainly tea or café.

When I head up, or is it down? - Voltaire to the métro, I don't feel too bad. I have managed to be in Paris without getting wet, without learning much useful - except that there are some interesting people around with low profiles - who are 'camped' in Paris, or in Europe.

I haven't got any 'grand scheme' for taking advantage of what I've learned - nothing that could constitute a great 'find' for a feature article in Time Magazine. A visit to the 'Freak Brothers' is a bit like passing a bit of life in a Time Machine - one that has its controls set to 'idle.'

It is plugged in to 220 volts and is ready to go though.

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