We’ve seen heroes come into the world of comics by a variety of means – from the bite of a radioactive spider, a accidental lightning strike and even a space ship from outer space. But in a new graphic novel from Image, a hero comes about from a more “natural” means: Marijuana.On April 20, 2011, a day known throughout the more marijuana-afficianado world as “420,” a holiday of sorts, a new kind of hero is born as Marijuanaman hits shelves. Created by Grammy Award-winning Reggae musician Ziggy Marley, the characters and story was brought to sequential life by comic veterans Jim Mahfood and Joe Casey. Although a title like Marijuanaman might carry some stereotypical misconceptions, the creators are quick to say it’s not the comic you think it is. Marijuanaman is an extraterrestrial being who comes to Earth to pass along an important message and seek salvation for his own homeworld.
Although marijuana is currently illegal in most states, Marijuanaman is free and clear to buy and enjoy by comic fans nation-wide – and everywhere else. On the release date April 20, the trio of Marley, Mahfood and Casey will be at Los Angeles’ Golden Apple comic store for a release part and signing from 6-8pm.
Newsarama: How would you describe the story of Marijuanaman?
Joe Casey: There's no way I could possibly describe the story. I can tell you it's a very spiritual tone poem about heroism in the 21st Century, it's a superhero thesis about a new way of living, it's the introduction of a new hero for a new generation. All that good stuff and lots of punching and explosions, too.
Nrama: Jim, what about you? In the press release you said “Marijuanaman is not going to be what people expect it to be.” What do you think people’s expectations are, and what is the comic actually about?
Jim Mahfood: Well, I think based on the name and what it’s called then people immediately think it’s a silly “stoner” kind of comic – that’s the typical thing to pop in your mind. But without giving too much away, we went in the other direction and made it more mystic and psychedelic. The underlying message of the book is that there’s a spiritual battle going on between right and wrong – it’s not just a good guy fighting bank robbers or something. There’s a spiritual war going on.
We sort of took it in our own direction, and we’re really happy with the results.
Nrama: From the sample pages I’ve received I see you really going all out with your coloring and lettering. When you came into this how’d you decide what kind of style and substance you’d bring to it versus something like your 40 oz. Comics series?
Mahfood: My art is continually changing and evolving. Each project looks slightly different that what cam previously – look at me now versus five or ten years ago.
Nrama: Something like Grrl Scouts.
Mahfood: Right. Radically different.
It’s a conscious choice of mine; I’m trying to get better... to do new things. When I do comics, I prefer to do it all myself – the pencils, inks and lettering. It all works best when I’m in control of the product.
That’s why colorist Justin Stewart and I work so well together; he sort of knows what I want. We have a good friendship AND a good working relationship, so we can talk about the colors and what we want to do and make it happen. So for Marijuanaman we went all out. We made it weird, interesting and visually striking. For me, when stuff’s in full color you need to push the color and make it crazy. That’s something in the book I’m really excited and proud about. When the story gets weird and mystical, the artwork reflects that.
Casey: I'm a huge fan of Jim's work, so to see this collaboration come to life was amazing in and of itself. We'd done a short Spider-Man story just prior to this, and as fun as that was, it wasn't the same. This was a much more organic process, and much more satisfying. Just the fact that Jim was hand-lettering it in his distinctive style is really what made it for me... to see my dialogue lettered by Jim is one of those full-circle moments. It's hard to pick a favorite, but anytime Jim depicts one of those iconic superhero moments -- Marijuanaman in flight, his transformation into a hero, throwing down with the villain, Cash Money -- is a real thrill.
Nrama: You two have comics running through your veins, but Ziggy’s new to the comics-making business. How did he react to your work?
Mahfood: He was cool. Ziggy was all about letting me cut loose. I felt like I was really able to make it my own, and just do it the way I would do it if it was my own book.
Nrama: How did you get involved with this?
Mahfood: Marley’s record label Tuff Gong contacted me. Apparently a neighbor of Ziggy’s knew about my work and showed it to him. Ziggy contacted me a couple years ago and we began talking about doing a comic book together. Eventually I got Joe involved because I knew we would need a real comic book writer to handle this thing.
Casey: Jim and I have been friends for years and have always wanted to work together. When he hooked up with Ziggy and this project started to come together, somehow he convinced Ziggy that I was the only guy who could actually write this thing. Lucky for me, Ziggy's a comic book fan and had actually read some of my stuff on his own, so it all fell into place. A few months later, we had a book.
Mahfood: It was really cool because the project became just a bunch of friends working together. Ziggy was really easy to work with.
We all get along – there’s no egos or attitudes to deal with. I also got Image involved because they publish both my creator-owned books. Marijuanaman seemed like a natural fit with them.
Nrama: All three of you – and Image – are based in California, and I know it’s a state that’s is more accepting to marijuana than some other parts of the country, but have you had any blowback about the subject matter?
Mahfood: Not really. Living in California, marijuana has become a sort of staple in the culture out here so we’re all sort of used to these issues. It’s not a big deal to me, especially because of the positive way we did it in the book. Ziggy’s a hemp activist, so it’s not even about smoking it and getting high; he’s a serious supporter of hemp.
The truth is that hemp is a product that has these amazing and positive applications. There’s obviously been a cover-up and conspiracy over the years from medical and pharmaceutical companies not wanting it to be legal because it’s a natural plant and has all these medical applications. A lot of Marijuanaman carries that kind of message – to me that’s not controversial but just being truthful and presenting facts.
Like I said, it’s not a drug book. It’s not Cheech & Chong or Half-Baked. The characters aren’t getting high; they don’t have the munchies.
Nrama: We’ve gotten some pictures of the three of you sitting down and talking – so what was the collaborative process like for this?
Casey: Very much like three guys sitting around and talking about comics... what we like, what we don't like, what we want to see, what we don't want to see. Ziggy had the characters, the motivations, the broader concepts... Jim and I simply fleshed them out on the page.
Mahfood: That picture of us was taken in the living room of my apartment. Joe and Ziggy would usually come over to my place and we’d sit around tossing ideas and working out the direction of the project. The project and characters were created by Ziggy – it was originally presented to me as a movie script that they were shopping around as a movie. Ziggy really wanted to do book, and after I read the movie script I thought it was really good fun. After Joe and I were hired officially to do the book, we decided to take the story into a more appropriate direction for the comic book format. We didn’t want to do a super-humorous movie script translation, so we took it into a weirder, darker, psychedelic direction. As you know, you have to format things differently for comics. The storytelling, the visuals and the overall vibe is different for comics.
So we got that together and presented it to Ziggy – and we was cool enough to go along with it. Once the pages started coming in, he could see what we were doing and he was into it. We were all on the same page, which was a good thing. There was never a time where any of us were disagreeing or arguing; it was a pretty pleasant, cool collaborative process. We’re all artist – Ziggy writes songs and makes music, so he understands how organic the creative process is and when you need to kind of step back and allow things to evolve.Visit Newsarama on FACEBOOK and TWITTER and tell us what you think!