I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s an actual legal requirement to be high when writing a story about weed, be it fiction or nonfiction. The creative team behind Image Comics´ The Secret History of The War on Weed seemed to be well in compliance with this when they put this comic together, and it’s all the better for it. It at least explains why lizard people and horny presidents are part of this hilarious, ridiculous, smart, and even heartfelt comic about the war on ganja and how backwards it is.
Writers Gerry Duggan and Brian Posehn along with illustrator Scott Koblish set their alternate history in 1980’s America. The President is a cross between Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher that sees in marijuana a poll-raising opportunity to get the country behind her administration. To wage this war, she sends the story’s unlikely hero, Scotch McTiernan (an Arnold Schwarzenegger-type commando that’s all of the 80’s action movies rolled into one) to jumpstart the conflict.
The story takes a turn when Scotch McTiernan gets high himself and sees how unnecessary the war is and how damaging it can be to enforce the prohibition of something that has been proven not to be a major problem in its effects. In the process, Duggan, Posehn, and Koblish get the chance to comment on how America creates wars to keep the military industrial complex rolling, how misguided policies can create criminals that then have to suffer the system, and how politicians can spin narratives to create evils engineered for campaigning purposes.
There’s a lot packed into this one-shot comic, but Duggan, Posehn, and Koblish keep the action on the highest volume setting, preferring mayhem over quiet ruminations on the subject matter. It succeeds because of how sharp and funny the story is.
Dialogue is a highlight, with puns and snappy punchlines driving the messages and metaphors home through laughs. This isn’t a mere parody of the 1980’s, though. It’s a smart critique of it and the policies it enacted, especially as they pertain to our current appreciation of weed consumption.
The War on Weed takes on the culture war that was waged against marijuana in the 80’s to explain how people formulated negative ideas about it and then how those same ideas could be traced back to certain special interests that wanted to antagonize the product for reasons that didn’t have the public’s interest at heart.
Koblish’s art reinforces this argument by referencing so many pop culture elements per page, per panel even, that it becomes impossible to separate weed from the things people still look back on in a positive light. There was a lot of damage done in the 1980’s due to how irresponsible and prejudiced its war on drugs was, but it was also the decade a lot of people started smoking weed (where it grew outside the Counter-cultre/hippie identity it carried). Koblish accounts for this in different ways, being both visually indulgent and confrontational as the story develops. It’s always funny as well, so repeat readings are encouraged. This is a book you’ll want to comb through for hidden visual gags and references.
The Secret History of The War on Weed sees nothing wrong in laughing at serious things, especially if it’s in the service of getting a message across. The message here is one of fairness. By decriminalizing weed, America does better by those who could potentially go to jail for an offense that should never have been an offense in the first place. In a way, The War on Weed is a great companion book to Box Brown’s Cannabis: The Illegalization of Weed in America (2019), which also uses humor to get its point across about the problems that haunt America’s politics on weed (albeit in a more measured manner).
Duggan, Posehn, and Koblish do more than enough to keep the conversation going on what is still a hotly debated topic. They condemn bad practices while making an honest plea to eliminate a problem that has no business being considered a crime in our times. For the benefit of all, they enlist lizard people, 80’s action heroes, and a weed version of Swamp Thing to lend a hand in fighting the good fight.
Story: Gerry Duggan and Brian Posehn Art: Scott Koblish
Story: 9.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 9.0 Recommendation: Buy and read while high for added effect
Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review