Look, up in the sky, it’s a bong, it’s plate of brownies — no, it’s … Marijuanaman. There are superheroes everywhere these days, so perhaps it’s no surprise that a cannabis-themed crusader is fighting the good fight on the cover of a (ahem) high-profile new project with musician Ziggy Marley as part of the creative team. But what’s intriguing is the hero on the cover is no bleary-eyed burnout looking for the Xbox controller in the couch. This pothead looks as intense as the Punisher, and Marley says there are meaningful messages rolled up within the tales’ action.
“It relates to the reality of why the plant is being criminalized and why it’s not being used in all of its facets,” said the five-time Grammy-winner and 42-year-old son of the late Bob Marley. “In the early days of American history, this plant was used much more widely, and then it became a demon and a devil.”
The 48-page hardcover premiere of “Marijuanaman” from Image Comics hits on 4/20 (no surprise) with art by Jim Mahfood (illustrator for the “40 oz Comics” and “Kick Drum Comix”) and scripts by Joe Casey (“Godland” and “Butcher Baker”). But, let’s be blunt, Marley is the name that will catch the attention of casual fans. “When people think Ziggy Marley and Marijuanaman, they’re like, ‘Oh, OK, we know what that’s about,'” the singer said during a recent interview at his Santa Monica office. “If you look deep, there’s so many things inside the art, it’s really heavy stuff.”
The plot presents an extraterrestrial being whose home world is in desperate need of THC and whose giant bong spaceship crashes on Earth. Taking up (and toking up?) with a green-minded band of freedom-fighters, Marijuanaman begins a mission to save our planet’s weed from destruction by the evil corporation Pharma-Con and its minions, among them robo-biker assassin Cash Money.
Adherence to “classic superhero-fights-evil motifs” is what anchors the stories, Casey said. As a co-founder of Man of Action Studios, Casey has had his hand in writing the popular Cartoon Network series “Generator Rex” and is well-known in the comics world after doing work on top-flight brands such as Superman and X-Men, as well as cult favorites like Godland and Butcher Baker. Casey and Mahfood go back a decade; they met Marley through one of the musician’s neighbors, Tom Martin, and illustrator Overton Lloyd, whose work includes the art for Parliament’s 1978 album “Motor Booty Affair.”
The new creative trio would often meet at Mahfood’s apartment to spitball ideas while translating thumbnail sketches with scribbled text into complex, hand-drawn pages. Mahfood’s longtime collaborator, colorist Justin Stewart, would bring those pages to the next level.
“It’s not usually like that when you work for Marvel or DC,” Casey said. “You type up the script, it’s a very assembly-line process. We wanted this to be more akin to song-writing where you’re just doing it.”
The hero hasn’t flown a straight trajectory by any means. When the project was first announced in 2010 at San Diego’s Comic-Con International, the poster for the comic had a flat, cartoonish aesthetic and playful tone. Things changed once the trio sat down to make a character worthy of an over-sized, deluxe hardcover graphic novel. The sharpness of the writing and illustration also kicked up a few notches, Mahfood said.
“We knew we had to make this a real book,” Mahfood said. There was a need to please discerning comics fans but also a resolution to keep the Marley name, music and legacy as a touchstone. Spattered with references to the contemporary reggae singer and his father, intricate (and sometimes incongruous) tapestries of Wailers song references and hat tips to the Tuff Gong record label are woven in the pages. Naturally, the Lion of Judah makes several majestic cameos.
The freedom to toy with imagery and a serious storyline was a major incentive for Marley to go the comic-book route with “Marijuanaman.” Originally posed as a movie script, the musician found that Hollywood was less inclined to let him steer his own ship.
“There’s so much more freedom,” Marley said of comics. “With movies, they want to put it in a box and make it this silly, comedy thing.”
With license to run free with Marley’s vision, Mahfood and Casey take Marijuanaman’s journey into experimental terrain. Throughout the book, his superpowers remain largely undefined.
“Since there’s no pre-established expectations with him, I can do a lot of different things,” Mahfood said. “Like when he uses his powers, all the sudden he’s half-plant. I’m just sort of making it up as I go along. I hope people dig the book, but I sorta don’t care. I want the dudes that I’m working with to like it.”
Mahfood has apparently succeeded, considering his art hangs in Marley’s recording studio as he lays down tracks for his forthcoming album, “Wild and Free.” As for creative meetings, Mahfood shook his head when asked if the creative team had any green Jamaican inspiration while they came up with their fully baked concepts. “That,” Mahfood said, “is top secret.”
– Nate Jackson
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