In a familiar tale of the comic strip business in the last quarter of the 20th century, Free For All was yet another college paper strip that hit the bigtime because syndicate execs were trying to duplicate the past successes of Doonesbury and Bloom County.
Brett Merhar’s Free For All debuted in 1992 in The Collegian, the paper of Colorado State University. In 1995 it was picked up by the Greeley (CO) Tribune where it apparently ran until 1998. King Features picked it up and began syndicating the strip on April 27 1998.
Free For All featured a cast of arrested development X-generation kids, originally in a college setting, and later in the syndicated version trying to make their way in the great big world. The strip was intended to be a bit on the raunchy side and closely emulated the hip tone of Bloom County if not the level of humor.
The strip fell flat and seems to have been canceled sometime right around its one year anniversary in 1999. But Merhar had bigger fish to fry — he moved to L.A. and by 2003 had talked the premium TV cable channel Showtime into signing Free For All as an animated cartoon. In promoting the TV series he avoided mentioning the fact that the strip had been a flop, carefully choosing his words in interviews to leave the impression that it was a big success and still in syndication.
I haven’t seen the cartoon but apparently the raunchy factor was turned way up, characterized by one writer as “South Park without the bleeping.” Seven episodes were produced for the first season, but Showtime didn’t pick up the option for any more. If you saw the show and liked it, you can purchase episodes online at Amazon.com.