Published on April 14th, 2011 | by Ernie Estrella1
Ziggy Marley, Joe Casey & Jim Mahfood Dish the Blunt Truth on ‘Marijuanaman’
If you think the title says it all, it doesn’t. If you think you already know what Marijuanaman is all about, you’re wrong. BuzzFocus.com spoke with the creators, Reggae star musician Ziggy Marley, Joe Casey (BUTCHER BAKER, GØDLAND) and Jim Mahfood (KICK DRUM COMIX, MIX TAPE) at Wondercon about their upcoming Image Comics original graphic novel dropping on 4/20. They talk about what they set out to do, how the three of them collaborated and more.
I think a lot of people are wondering how this collaboration came together and how the project materialized.
Ziggy Marley: I first met Jim. Then I checked out Jim’s art–loved Jim’s art and thought it was cool and appropriate for the comic because it was something different, not typical. Jim told me about Joe and I said, ‘alright I didn’t know who he was’ [Laughs] but I read comics, you know? I was reading a Superman/Batman team-up one day where there was this dialogue with my father’s words from “One Love” and I said, “Who wrote this?” I flipped to the front of the book and it said, “Joe Casey.” So I said, “Aright. Joe is the right guy for this.” He knows what’s up. He has the philosophy right. I wasn’t going to try and tell them what to do. They consulted with me and worked it out but they had all the freedom. They needed to get it done the way they saw it.
Did you have any insight into what you wanted to see.
ZM: No, I just wanted to see Jim’s art. We had a basic treatment of the idea. My first idea was, I dunno, soft. Joe came in said, “Let’s make him a bad ass!” and “Let’s change the costume!” They made it more badass than I had in mind. (Marijuanaman) is much deeper, more mysterious than what I had originally thought because of Joe and Jim.
Was this a story you had in your head and you wanted to put down on paper?
ZM: It was an idea. We wanted to promote marijuana in a different light.
Joe was adapting Ziggy’s ideas mesh with something you’ve always wanted to do or was this a project where you wanted to take his baby in your hands and give it care?
Joe Casey: We talked and I knew where he was coming from. I think what he wanted to make sure was that the comic book met his superhero genre expectations. He didn’t just want it to be a thesis on hemp nation. He wanted that philosophy layered into a real action story with a real character and a real world that we could create–just like we do in comics all the time. That’s a testament to Ziggy. He wanted something that was legitimate in the comic book world.
Our goal was a two-pronged attack. It was making a comic book that people who might not have any grounding in the hemp movement or any of that stuff could come to it as a super hero comic and enjoy it. There’s awesome fights, action, good guys and bad guys, an alien from another planet, and all the stuff you love in your super hero comics. But you also get a little philosophy; there’s a subtext you don’t get in a Marvel or DC or any other super hero comic. If you like superhero comics you’re getting a little something extra, but if you’re part of the hemp nation, and you know what that philosophy is, you’re getting this really cool adventure, a cool character and you’re getting entertained while you realize, ‘hey we’re part of something bigger than what we know about.’
Did this project flex some different muscles for you since you’ve been working with TV a lot lately on the Cartoon Network (Ben 10) as well as your creator-owned comics at Image (Butcher Baker: The Righteous Maker)?
JC: It’s not too dissimilar to the stuff I do in my creator-owned work but the way this was different was the way it was created. Since Ziggy was on board I suggested that we make it like music. So it wasn’t like I write a script and send it off to Jim. I did weird little thumbnails, stick figures, because I can’t draw for shit but it was enough to communicate the idea and that was something Ziggy could see, so it wasn’t just typed words on the paper. It was almost like an idiot’s version of a comic book page. Ziggy got an intermediate idea of what it was going to look like visually and the way Jim translated it of course took it to another level but that’s something you can never get away with at Marvel or DC or any of the other companies where you’re doing work for hire. We made it a very organic process, which was very fitting for the material.
Now Jim, I know that you have a funky soundtrack behind you at all times and you host your Beat Bee radio sessions, and obviously Ziggy you beat to your own drum–
Jim Mahfood: Joe’s a musician too, he’s a rocker.
JC: Can’t you tell? Look at me!
JM: All of us are rooted in music.
So like music, Marijuanaman was put together in a layered process as well? Like a freelance jam session?
JM: It was like a jam session, yeah.
ZM: It was very easy, the vibe was cool. I was happy that I wasn’t being the responsible guy. I was happy that some of the weight was off me, there’s a lot of weight on Joe and Jim. I was like, “Here’s the idea, you (two) figure it out.”
JC: Also Ziggy’s a comic book fan so if he’s going to make a recommendation, I felt it was our responsibility to make it a fun experience for him and that it wasn’t just a grind. Not just the finished product but the experience of making it had something to it. It was almost on the spiritual side as well.
JM: Joe and I have worked on a couple of little things before but this is probably the biggest thing we’ve worked on together. We’ve known each other for many years so it was good to finally to do a full project together and do it with the permission to go ape-shit and make it awesome. We weren’t restricted by anything. Joe came to my house a couple times and we sat in my living room and he did these thumbnails he was talking about with storytelling, and pacing in them. He wrote out the dialogue by hand. It was very organic, this dude’s versatile, he’s good, but I don’t want to blow up his ego, [Laughs] but he knows his shit.
Ziggy was just cool enough to have the blueprint of all of it. Like here’s the idea, here are the characters and you guys interpret it. We’re all artists, he makes records, he doesn’t want to be told how to write songs, so he wasn’t towering over us telling us how to draw. It was a harmonious working experience.
Ziggy did you get anything from these two guys besides you that you’ll take to working on your next album?
ZM: What I get from this is the openness (of the collaboration). I may have come up with the idea, but you know it’s a good team when people can relate to you. I found something within everybody that was common. We just jammed and created something organically and that’s how each of us creates. We like doing it that way. I think that I got that the organic way is the best way.
Jim, I’ve read your mini-comics for years and while I know a lot of it is funny stuff, it’s also observational humor, slices of life with your slant on it. How many political undertones are we going to see in the book?
JM: There are definite messages of pro-hemp in the book, but its not blatant; we’re not hitting you over the head with it. It is just intertwined with the character and his philosophy, the good guys, the bad guys. There’s an obvious spiritual conflict going on in the book. It’s not typical, silly, stoner humor. When you read it you’ll get the conflict and what’s going on.
Why use the superhero vehicle? Because in consumers in America wouldn’t pick it up or does the message works in this funky way?
JC: We didn’t want it to be like an alternative comic, a comic with an X. That in a way excludes a great number who read comics because they like the adventure, cool characters and the colorful aspects of it. We wanted something that had the broadest appeal possible. In America, that’s superheroes. Ziggy, you probably read superheroes as a kid right?
ZM: Yes. Superman… all of those guys.
JC: Yeah so those kind of characters crosses all kinds of boundaries: cultural, boundaries of ethnicity, all of that stuff. So it’s the perfect vehicle to not only tell a great story, but if you’ve got some subtext that you’re trying to get across, they’re great for that too. Like Jim said, you don’t want to hit people over the head with it. Superheroes are a great delivery system for ideas and philosophies. You can fuse the characters with them instead of getting all preachy and standing on your soapbox, which a lot of indie comics tend to do because they’re so creator-centric. But in this case, we had a character and a story that was able to propel those ideas. I think we’re all entertainers when we do our work. We didn’t want something that was such a narrow focus; (again) we wanted something with the broadest appeal possible.
JM: It’s like superhero sensibilities melded together with underground comix. It’s not super underground like Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, like 60’s head shop comics and it’s not super mainstream like, “He fights bank robbers!” It’s more of a mixture of the two sensibilities, so there’s something in there for both sets of fans.
Let’s talk about the art, Jim. It’s over-sized, and your hardcover sketchbooks are over-sized and when you do your Live Art, you work real big. We haven’t seen a lot of sequential stuff from you lately in that large size. Talk about that working in that format.
JM: I did those Mix Tape sketchbooks for Image and Ziggy saw those and really liked them a lot. We decided not to make the book in the form of a thin, small floppy pamphlet because it would be out one week and then forgotten. Having it as a one-shot special book, the format makes it that much more special of an item. It’s hardcover, it looks good, the printing is awesome, and the art is in blazing full-color. It looks badass bigger. Ziggy was actually seeing my original pages in 11” x 17” and he said that we should just do a book in this size. [Ziggy and Joe chuckling] Maybe we’ll do a big tough gun special edition.
ZM: Yeah… something like that.
JM: I do like big visuals and it does come from making four-foot paintings. It’s interesting to think in both scales. Sometimes comics are just… small. Blow that shit up! I think that format is right for my work. My buddy Justin Stewart colored it and his colors look awesome! He killed it! If you see the black and white art next to the colors it’s like two different things. There are some psychedelic scenes that are pure, weird awesomeness. Then you add the color, seeing it that big, it’s going to be good.
What’s going to be the experience like high?
JM: That’s a good question. You mean looking at it while you’re high?
We can start there.
JM: I think high or sober you’re going to be like, “This is some tripped-out shit! This is cool.” Yeah, I think it’s going to be up to the readers. It is coming out on 4/20 (the counterculture holiday to celebrate cannabis). Some people may be altered when they first read the book.
ZM: When I was on tour and the first copies came in, I was like, “Yo, let me see that.” The first night I had to look at it and I love it. I love it, man. The art–great, the printing–great, the book–great! To me it’s a collector’s thing. It’s different than the digital stuff, where people read it on the computer of whatever, but when they get the physical book, that’s the real experience.
Would you like to collaborate with these guys again on a future comic for a second adventure?
ZM: Yeah-man. More and more of this and other stuff.
JC: You’ve got the comic bug, I think. [Ziggy laughs]
You like this delegation.
ZM: Yeah-man. I love that. [Laughs] They made me more laid back. They said, “It’s cool Ziggy, we got it, we can take care of it.” Aright, I can try that. [Joe and Jim Laugh]
JM: It’s good to work with people who are easy to work with. It makes the work that much better. That’s the good thing about comics. You can sit down, you have an idea, and you get the paper out and start making it within five months you have the book in hand from beginning to end. It took me two months to draw the book, and in two weeks I’m going to have it in my hand. It’s a very immediate way of making something that you can hand to people and show. Whereas trying to make a show, or a cartoon, it can go on for years.
JC: When you have a creative experience this good, you want to repeat it, but you want to repeat it in the right way. Now we’re in the phase of anticipating the book to come out; I want to see people’s reactions to it. I think that excitement might feed us and propel us into the next thing.
I have to ask this for the fools who can’t be separated from their iPads. What about the digital format and digital distribution of this book?
JC: I think Image Comics has a deal with Comixology and I think this is one of the things that’s going to be offered on that service.
JM: Seriously? People should get the book. I understand the digital convenience, but we did this purposely to have as an item. There’s spot gloss varnish on the cover, c’mon man! We’re all probably more old school, I like to have it in my hand to look at it and carry it.
ZM: It should be in a library.
Being a hardcover it should be found in a library. What misconceptions do you want to clear up prior to the release?
JC: It’s definitely not the book you think it is from the title. It’s a lot deeper; it’s a spiritual conflict. How’s that?
JM: There’s a psychedelic love scene, where people turn into trees. No, I don’t know. It’s not the obvious Cheech and Chong kind of thing that people probably think it is. They probably think it’s a bunch of people getting high and getting the munchies but it’s not that at all. It’s way more spiritual and mystic; there’s some depth, and weirdness to it. And we’re all going to be signing at Golden Apple in Los Angeles on 4/20 to celebrate the book coming out.
ZM: It’s cool, man. That’s all I have to say.
Look for the 48-page oversized hardcover of Marijuanaman by Ziggy Marley, Joe Casey and Jim Mahfood. Marijuanaman will retail for $24.99, and will drop at stores this Wednesday April, 20 2011.