The Friedman Brothers: Forerunners of SCTV, Release Comic Collection

The sons of writer/comic genius Bruce J. Friedman and model/writer/acting coach Ginger Howard, Josh Alan and Drew Friedman were raised in the artistic bowels of New York City. Josh Alan, a longtime contributor to the Dallas Observer, has a long and varied career as a writer and musician. He first appeared in Screw magazine, and eventually became the editor. Many of his pieces for Screw were gathered for his first book, Tales of Times Square (1986).

Friedman has gone on to publish several acclaimed works, most notably Black Cracker, an "autobiographical novel" looking back at what it was like to be the only white child in an all-black Long Island elementary school prior to the Civil Rights Movement and integration, Tell the Truth Until They Bleed (2008), a fabulous collection of Friedman's music journalism, and When Sex Was Dirty (2005). He also wrote extensively for National Lampoon and served as managing editor of High Times (1983).

The Friedman brothers joined forces in 1978 and began producing comic strips about second-tier celebrities like Wayne Newton, Ernest Borgnine, Tor Johnson, and the Three Stooges' Shemp Howard for Heavy Metal and Screw.

They would go on to place strips in National Lampoon, High Times, and RAW. Their success and influence led to the following description from Wikipedia: "The Friedman Bros. became the most-feared names in satirical cartooning. Their comics had a discernible influence on SCTV."

In 1986, Fantagraphic Books published Any Similarity To Persons Living or Dead Is Purely Coincidental, a collection of the Friedman brothers' work from 1979-1985. Fantagraphic has just released the fifth edition of the volume with new material selected by both brothers.

We caught up with Josh Alan Friedman, who resides in Dallas, in New York City.

Art Attack: What was the impetus for putting the book out again?

Josh Alan Friedman: The collection originally came out in 1985, and was about the past. They now say you have to be 45 years old to get our references. Do kids today recognize Fred Mertz from I Love Lucy, or Gomer Pyle, or Wayne Newton? Is it necessary for them to learn about Shemp Howard? Well, we think it is critically important for young people to understand Shemp.

AA: How long had it been out of print?

JAF: This is the fifth edition. But the last was 20 years ago.

AA: What was the original thinking behind the book?

JAF: Fantagraphics wanted to collect our comic strips in one volume. I remember when we sent off the FedEx package containing all of the original art. The package got lost and they didn't acknowledge receiving it for one nerve-wracking week.

AA: Obviously if your brother is the artist and you are doing the text, a lot of planning/forethought had to go into each vignette. What was that process like?

JAF: The strips that I wrote began with the conception of an idea, storyline, dialogue, balloons, captions, the blocking of scenes, almost like a screenplay. I saw them as movies that no one would dare to make. Some scripts were 20 pages.

AA: Were the originals selling enough during the period you guys were doing this for you guys to make a living, or was this just part of what you had going on?

JAF: We were starving artists because it took a month to produce one page.

AA: Surely with siblings there was argument about certain items. Do you remember any big one in particular?

JAF: One of the last had to do with presenting him with a 50-panel version of what became my autobiographical book, Black Cracker. Drew went to the same segregated school, two years behind me. But it was too personal. "Do your own book," he said, "leave me out of it."

AA: How would you characterize your brother's style?

JAF: Originally he worked with stippling technique, using a rapidograph pen. Bent over a desk like a watchmaker, doing thousands of dots. A technique made famous by "Sunday in the Park with Georges" Seurat, but strictly shunned by art schools in the 20th century.

AA: Who were his teachers re. drawing, art etc?

JAF: He was self taught and he denied learning anything in college. He didn't even want to be an artist. But I saw him improve technically (drawing hands had been a problem) while attending the School of Visual Arts. His use of artist tools, like the rapidograph, his Olde New York cityscapes and geometric objects as opposed to cartooning, which he developed solo. Some classes were taught by Harvey Kurtzman and Art Spiegelman.

AA: I was never aware of this stuff during the original period. How did this get out to the public at large, how did people find out about it? How "big" was it at its height? Who was the audience?

JAF: We collaborated from 1978 to 1990. These strips--if you could even call them comic strips--first appeared in Screw, High Times, Art Spiegelman's RAW, Heavy Metal, and National Lampoon through the 1980s. A month or two after a strip came out, we'd see a similar surreal take-off on SCTV.

Gilbert Gottfried tried to do "Fred's Night Out" on Saturday Night Live, but it got cut. Too hip for the room. Kurt Cobain was said to write "Floyd the Barber" based on our Andy Griffith strip, and Zappa kept the book on his bedside table.

We were never given a ticker-tape parade. But there was a big event for Persons Living or Dead at Danceteria in 1985. We had continuous tapes running of Tor Johnson, Jim Nabors, and Wayne Newton appearances on Ed Sullivan. Our subjects. As the evening built, the East Village punk-art crowd went apeshit, singing "Won't You Come Home Bill Bailey" with Wayne Newton to the point of rioting. Beer bottles were flying. One of the most liberating moments of my life.

Last week, I had dinner with one of our subjects, 87-year-old Joe Franklin, who invented the TV talk show. He once sued Drew for $40-million. Now we're all friends. But in the middle of dinner, he suddenly said, "Your brother, he had me coming out of an Irish woman's vagina. Why'd he do that?"

"Because he loves you, Joe," I told him.

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