Jack Kirby, Frank Frazetta, Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster, Jerry Robinson, and more (Creators), Craig Yoe (Editor)
Dark Horse Comics
March 29, 2018
Do you miss the days when the devil’s lettuce was demonized and illegal everywhere? Love getting lit and laughing at just how misunderstood marijuana was, and still is in much of the world? Craig Yoe and Dark Horse Comics have a wonderful collection of archival material for you in Reefer Madness. Now let’s light one up and hash this book out!
Reefer Madness is a compilation of anti-marijuana comics featuring all your favorite comics dads: Jack Kirby, Frank Frazetta, Jerry Robinson and more. The 21 comics collected all deal with one thing: the hysteria surrounding marijuana in America starting in the early 1930s. While most of the comics seem ridiculous, it’s easy to see how the ideology presented in these comics affected the general public’s knowledge of the drug. While the hysteria seems a little extreme now in this new world where 29 states have legalized medical and/or recreational cannabis consumption, the effects are still lasting. I’ve had friends my age who’d never been around stoners before blame criminal activity on marijuana addicts, and been in classes where teachers presented marijuana in the same way these comics do—as a gateway to a life riddled with drugs, crimes, and violence.
Yoe not only edited and designed Reefer Madness, he also wrote the introduction. Yoe tells of the history of marijuana hysteria in the US and its connection with comics. There are interesting tidbits here and there, but it drags on, making it hard to focus too much on the text after a while. The comics are more captivating, ranging from ridiculous stories of marijuana murders to kids getting hooked on heroin after trying weed for the first time. But the collection isn’t meant to be read all in one go, or the comics start to get monotonous.
Taken one at a time, most of the collected works are silly enough to find enjoyable. More than one comic revolves around a cigarette salesman agreeing to sell special unbranded cigarettes for ten to fifty cents a pop. Someone, usually a minor, gets ahold of that sweet hashish and starts committing crimes left and right. Kids killing, stealing, and generally being up to no good after just a few hits of a reefer cigarette? Sorry friends, but that’s just not how that goes. Committing crimes while stoned sounds like the literal worst thing. My favorite of these is from Mister Universe #3’s “Sorry — No Cigarettes Today”. Attributed to George Tuska, the story features a young American hero named ‘Yankee Boy’ taking down ‘The Reefer King’ and his lackey, all in the name of sweet American justice. The opening panel is, in my opinion, amazing. The grim reaper attacking Yankee Boy mid-harvest with a sickle in one hand and a watering can in the other is one of the most relatable things I’ve seen in years.
Most of the comics follow this general “smoke weed and become akin to a demon” plot line, but a few are a little more hard hitting and believable. Two in particular jumped out at me; Monkey on Her Back and Trapped!. Both deal with marijuana as a gateway drug to heroin. In Monkey on Her Back, the main character has been caught with heroin in her pocket. She regales the mayor, who the police have brought her to, with how her sister Ruth was addicted to heroin and was having bad withdrawals, which is why she had the heroin on her. Importantly, the heroin addiction started only after Ruth began smoking dope. Ruth’s saving grace in the story is that she shields her sister from drugs, knowing that it was drugs that brought her to such despair. “
Trapped! is extremely similar in that the main character smokes one joint, begins craving dope like crazy, and replaces the high from weed with that of heroin when he can’t get any more marijuana. Now, we all know marijuana isn’t a gateway drug, but heroin is no laughing matter. Any mention of heroin is gonna spook anyone even remotely sensitive to the idea of drugs. This kind of rhetoric was preached to me growing up, and I can recall several times throughout my adolescence where I thought heroin and marijuana were on the same level and one led to the other.
If anything, this comic got me thinking about how these ideologies still influence much of society’s thoughts surrounding marijuana. Though these comics seem ridiculous, it’s important to remember that drug-related panic still affects an inordinate amount of people of color who are being persecuted on drug charges throughout the United States.
Ultimately this collection seems a little boring to me; I know this rhetoric, I’ve heard it over and over and over again, and while it is fun to get high and giggle at just how wrong these comics and people were about weed, it gets old.