Reefer Madness editor Craig Yoe speaks to AiPT about weed, censorship, prohibition and how they all relate to comic book history.
Ah, April 20th- the marijuana connoisseur’s Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, Valentine’s Day, and birthday all rolled into one fatty of a celebration. With recreational weed legal in nine states and medically legal in 29, 4/20 is less of a counter-culture rally these days and more of a reflection on the strides American society has taken in its perception of the ganja.
Dark Horse’s recent release of Reefer Madness, a collection of now-hilarious anti-cannabis comics from the early to mid 20th century, shows just how far public opinion has come since the days of true anti-weed hysteria. In my review of the collection I noted just how hysterical some of these works are, especially when you realize how many legendary creators were involved in these story.
Even more fascinating is the 30 page foreword compiled by Editor Craig Yoe, which explores the intricate relationship between marijuana prohibition, yellow journalism, comic books and censorship. In celebration of 4/20, I sat down with Mr. Yoe to talk Reefer Madness, the unknown history of weed comics, and the future of marijuana perception in America:
AiPT!: While reading the introduction to this collection, it dawned on me that what we call “fake news” has been around for nearly a hundred years, just known as “yellow journalism.” Is that a revelation you had yourself or expect other readers to have?
Craig Yoe: If I eat too much of my fave food, 5-alarm chili, it burbs up again a couple of hours later. This fake news stuff for political gain from all sides and the anti-pot hysteria keeps coming back like a too spicy meal! Right now, burping seems the least of the problems. I hear loud rumbling from the other end, by that I mean butt-headed politicians, religious zealots, and media-types! How about the comic [in Reefer Madness] about the border patrol at the Mexican border trying to keep undesirable dope smugglers out of our country? Sound like today’s headlines?
AiPT!: I found the intersection between anti-weed propaganda and anti-comics propaganda fascinating. Do you have anything in the works to explore that idea further?
CY: I will be exploring some similar ideas in some forthcoming books. I’d give you more details but a misspent drug-addled youth has made me too paranoid to share.
AiPT!: You mention in the introduction there were comic artists who supported weed use working alongside the same artists who were creating anti-weed propaganda comics. To your knowledge, was there ever any confrontation between those two parties within the comic book industry?
CY: Artists are usually a liberal sort. I’d be quite surprised, really, if ANY of the creators who drew these stories were actually against wacky tobaccy. I think the writers and artists just smelled a good racy story that would pry dimes out of gullible kids’ pockets. They might have been toking dope and chuckling away right while they were in the act of creating these lurid stories of youth gone bad.
AiPT!: In the introduction to Reefer Madness there is TONS of anecdotal evidence employed, how long did it take to compile all those quotes, articles, and statements?
CY: I’ve been bogarting this joint for a long time. Years of thinking and research went into the book. My good friend Steven Thompson was a huge help behind the scenes. But it IS a fascinating story about the suppression of both pot and comics that accompanies the hilariously funny comics. So, it was work, but tons of giggly fun to put this together.
AiPT!: Of the anti-marijuana comics collected here, is there one that stands out as a particular favorite of yours?
CY: The Jack Kirby story is just so over the top. One puff and the kid becomes an ax murderer that terrorizes his town! Of course, as you read in the intro of Reefer Madness, this one had its roots in an actual event that was way overblown just like the comic book story. That was when Victor Licata chopped up his family, but he was probably more just horribly nuts more than a victim of the weed with roots in Hell!
AiPT!: With how accepted weed has become today, do you think there is another condemned drug that we will look at in 40 years and laugh about our criminalization of it?
CY: Eating Tide pods?
AiPT!: Are there any comics you wanted to include in this collection that you just couldn’t squeeze in? Is there going to be a Reefer Madness: Director’s Cut soon?
CY: I think we pretty much have all the major high-grade cray-cray stories of the evils of Satan’s lettuce in this packed volume. It’s got top-tier artists like the aforementioned Jack Kirby and also Frank Frazetta, Superman’s creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Jerry Robinson, Mort Meskin, Winsor McCay and many more. R. Crumb even makes an appearance! And there are all genres: superhero stories, romance comics, crime pot-boilers, government educational comics, about the cigarettes of sin that women cry for and men die for!
Reefer Madness is available at most major book retailers. This book is perfect for the weed lovers in your life and makes for the perfect 4/20 gift, if that is even a thing.