Ziggy Marley, eldest son of Bob Marley, is releasing a new comic book, Marijuana Man, on Wednesday, April 20. The new comic book, from the acclaimed Berkeley alternative comics imprint Image Comics, offers some killer art from Clerks illustrator Jim Mahfood, along with archetypal mythology for a new superhero conceived by Marley. Popeye, in short, is no longer the only cartoon lover of greens.
The Grammy Award-winning musician and social activist said he had wanted to do a comic book for many years as a way of reaching a new audience with his ecological message. Marley is a devout activist for hemp, marijuana law reforms, and environmental and human rights. When he read the work of comic book writer Joe Casey last year — especially his writings on fatherhood — Marley, the father of six, reached out to do the project. "I wanted to put a message out in a different type of poetry," said Marley, who won a 2006 Grammy for Love is My Religion.
Marijuana Man is a lush, full-color, oversized hardcover book. Marijuana Man himself looks a bit like a white Jesus, is named Sedona, and hails from the planet Yelram. Instead of DNA, Sedona's genetic code is based on tetrahydracannabinol, or THC, the molecule in marijuana responsible for its euphoria (and anxiety in some users).
Sedona lives in Zen-like repose with an island group of rebels who regularly fight a pharmaceutical corporation called "Pharma-Con." One day a toking buddy, Smokestack, warns him: "Just saying ... you might wanna think a bit more about your current isolationist stance." It's enough to tip the scales toward action.
Empowered by the quasi-contact high of his buddies' doobies, Marijuana Man vanquishes the Pharma-Con biker droid "Cash Money," winning the heart — and booty — of rebel fighter Selena. "Our hero doesn't smoke — that was deliberate," Marley noted. "We didn't want to it be a comedy about getting high."
Instead, it's a didactic explanation of how Pharma-Con has patented synthetic THC and peddles it while jailing natural growers and users. Future issues will explore the subjugation of industrial hemp by the oil and paper industries.
While the most advanced graphic novels of the last few decades explore moral ambiguity — and no subject is more ambiguous than cannabis law in America in 2011 — the topic gets a deliberately simplistic treatment in book No. 1, Marley said. Strident political views and high-contrast characters bent on good and evil are a classic trope of the golden era of comics, when the 46-year-old grew up reading them.
Marley's treatment and Casey's execution doesn't leave much to surprise. But "it's deeper than the first glance," Marley said. There's messages in there. Even in the art. It's deep."
Indeed, Mahfood's dark, scratchy, Ralph Steadman-esque depictions of Pharma-Con execs as well as his colorful, detailed tableaus of Marijuana Man in states of neo-hippy bliss look both gorgeous and street credible. However, the depictions of copious dope smoking occur without a hint of the drug's mildly addictive downside or other drawbacks. "The first book is definitely for adults," Marley said. "There is some sexual and violent stuff. We had to be aggressive to reach out to them."
On marijuana addiction in reality, Marley cautions against smoking it regularly: "If you find yourself not being productive in life or being positive, that might be a problem. If you find yourself sitting down and smoking every day, that's a problem. Some people really overdo it. Smoking is not something that's good for your body. In past cultures it wasn't an everyday thing. It wasn't a habit."
Still, Marijuana Man is here to illustrate the largely overshadowed beneficial uses of pot as a sacrament, a meditative aid, and as a medicine, as well as hemp as an industry, he said. "It's a moral plant," he added. "It's good for the environment. There's so much for Marijuana Man to discover. A lot of people know about smoking. A lot of people don't know about hemp."
Marley hopes to release the second and third Marijuana Man books on each subsequent 4/20. "He's a hero eventually children will be able to love," he said. "He's a character that will come to be loved like Spider-Man and Superman."
Seeds and Stems
April 20 gatherings across the Bay Area:
Barack Obama will be at Facebook headquarters in a Q&A that will likely not touch on drug reform. Obama administration officials have said "legalization is not in my vocabulary," and Facebook has banned advertising that depicts marijuana. Still, Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz was a major donor to the Prop 19 California legalization campaign last year, and drug law reformers have dominated recent YouTube Q&As with the president.
Americans for Safe Access will stage a rally at the San Francisco kickoff of Obama's 2012 reelection campaign. They'll highlight ongoing persecution of medical marijuana patients through Drug Enforcement Administration raids in California, Internal Revenue Service audits of major dispensaries, and FDIC threats to banks serving dispensaries.
Master celebrity cultivator Ed Rosenthal will sign copies of his Marijuana Grower's Handbook at Book Passage at the Ferry Building at 4:20 p.m., in San Francisco.
Oaksterdam cannabis college in Oakland hosts its semi-public Spring Bowl cannabis competition starting at 3 p.m. General admission is $10 for music, food, drink, vendors, and a VIP lounge.
At People's Park in Berkeley, the 4/20 at 4:20 p.m. event should feature the usual.
On April 21 and 22, NORML hosts its annual conference in Denver. And on April 23, the Deep Green eco-fest in Richmond will feature The Coup.