Updated: Aug 18, 2019
Our CCC member Derek is also a published comic artist. Of course we had to ask for a cannabis-themed cartoon. As a bonus, he gave a us a peek into his creative process and how he incorporates cannabis into his artistic vision.
I got my first professional cartooning gig twenty five years ago as a caricaturist at Toronto’s Ontario Place. That was also when I discovered the wonders of weed, and the two have been inextricable ever since.
In 2017 I started my single panel comic Bogart Creek, posting three jokes a week and, to my surprise, getting my first collection published around the same time I found out I was accepted as a part of AHLOT’s Cannabis Curation Committee (it was a good couple of months!).
The folks at AHLOT thought it would be fun for me to come up with a cannabis-themed comic and walk you through my process, with reflections on how weed plays a part. Some of the incentive here is to help dispel the stigma that pot-heads are lazy slackers. I seek out strains that motivate me, and I take care to only consume enough to elevate and boost my creative energy.
Cannabis and creativity
In my view, cannabis doesn’t make you creative any more than protein powder and stretching make you athletic. It helps creative people “shift their perception” and “break mental habits” (to quote from Michael Pollan). If you’re stuck in rut, it opens up the mind to bounce around; if you’re at the execution stage of a project, it helps with focus; and if you’re at the final polishing and editing stage, it makes you more discerning.
But of course what cannabis is really amazing for is time travel. Weed creates the perception of time stretching out and slowing down, which is great when you’re up against a deadline. And as we know it also dampens short term memory, helping us "endure (and selectively forget) the routine slings and arrows of life” (again, from Pollan, paraphrasing Allyn Howlett). When we forget the chatter of the day, and relax in our perception of time, we can play. And when we play, time flies. Weed is the flux capacitor in the Delorean.
Why single panel comics?
I grew up on The Far Side and Herman (each drawn by masters of their own unique space in the pantheon of gag cartooning) and lately I’ve come to enjoy the artistry of Charles Adams, the weirdness of Edward Steed, and the fearlessness of Tom Cheney. As a genre or discipline, I love the volume and variety of ideas the single panel comic format affords.
They can be philosophical (for example, check out “I Think, Therefore I Draw”), or they can be flat-out absurdist. Political cartoons are a particularly volatile and powerful variation (I still can’t believe how they pose such a profound threat to religious zealots or billionaire oil barons). And they require very little attention span, which makes me wonder why they aren’t the preferred comic format of our distracted times. I suppose one could argue that memes (in their modern online form) are a kind of single panel comic, so they are alive and kicking, even if they aren’t painstakingly hand-drawn New Yorker hopefuls.
1) Sativa! I look for a high energy, clear-headed euphoria with a low-munchy/distraction factor (not so strong that you wind up staring into space, overwhelmed by your seemingly brilliant random thoughts but too high to grab a pen).
2) I take a shotgun approach to ideation because I rarely know what people will find funny. I keep scraps of paper everywhere, which function a bit like the tattoos on that guy in Memento, ensuring I never miss an opportunity to record inspiration when it strikes. When I’m stuck I write lists of topics and free associate, or I just regress into random stream of consciousness doodling, like a bored kid in geography class. But it all winds up on a scrap of paper that goes in the joke box until it’s ready for the spotlight.
3) The rhythm of a joke fascinates me and I could go on and on about how the eye naturally jumps around in ‘saccades’ and how we perceive time and movement in a succession of frames and not fluid motion (Oliver Sacks has some great stuff on this in The River of Consciousness); I could rant about how Scott McCloud is flat-out wrong to say that single panel comics aren’t real comics because they aren’t “sequential” (in a single panel cartoon the eye creates the sequence, free of borders and gutters), but the bottom line is: three is the magic number. Generally there should be three key points of interest that lead up to the “Eureka!” moment where the reader figures out the punchline and, hopefully, laughs.
4) Less is more: let the reader figure it out.
5) Don’t over-draw, or under-draw. Find that sweet spot. Digesting a gag cartoon has to be done quickly – if you throw in extraneous details, you risk confusion, and if you over-render something, removing the quirks and mistakes, you kill the humour. An unattractive comedian is funnier than a good looking one. Here’s an example of an almost embarrassing level of under-drawing (a very early Bogart Creek):
6) If you’re doing pop-cultural parody, do your research lest the hive mind of the internet call you out. Imgur is a great place to test originality - nothing gets past them.
7) If you must resort to puns (“Dad” jokes), Google them first. They’re even more pervasive than pop-cultural ones.
8) Have a group you trust, like a private comedy club, who you don’t mind bombing in front of. Get their feedback and cut out the bad stuff before tossing it into the meat grinder of the internet.
9) In terms of execution, I prefer hand-drawing, because analog is always more personal. Unfortunately it’s time consuming so, after sketching, I tend to use a tablet and Photoshop for finals. But even then, I try to avoid the urge to fix everything – mistakes are funny! (As long as they don’t distract or confuse).
10) If I get stuck and can’t figure out how to crack a good concept, there are two ways to hit ‘reset’: either put the sketch in the joke box and leave it for a while, or puff away until you forget what you were thinking in the first place.
Comics and cannabis have been marginalized for so long, it’s nice to see that both are gaining the respect they deserve. I hope you’ve enjoyed this little foray into my method. In closing,
here are some of the runners-up, followed by the final, winning cannabis-themed comic.
After two decades of conscious experimentation, Derek is still utterly amazed at how cannabis perfectly complements art, music, dance and food. A gifted illustrator and musician, he left the hustle and bustle of downtown Toronto to live in Milo, a small village of about 120 people in Southern Alberta. Bogart Creek, his first collection of single-panel hilarity, has just been published and is available online and in stores.
Learn more about Derek and AHLOT's other Cannabis Curation Committee members here.