A New Age of Stoner Comics Is Smoking Out the Underground Classics

Here is where funny papers meet rolling papers.

 In the first wave of modern drug culture, underground comic books such as Robert Crumb’s Zap Comix and Gilbert Shelton’s The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers arrived like loaded Trojan Horses: Their psychedelic magic was worked through a medium traditionally meant to beguile children with flying musclemen and funny animals. Marijuana was essential to this fresh form of comics, for artists and audiences alike.

Underground comics still thrive in 2016. Today's transcendent talents are the modern extension of original upstarts Crumb, Shelton, Bill Griffith, Shary Flenniken, S. Clay Wilson, Spain Rodriguez, and others. They are a counterculture thorn in the mainstream’s rosy omnipresence.

And drugs still light up the words and drawings from these contemporary radicals, too. 

Band for Life by Anya Davidson

Comic: Band for Life

Artist: Anya Davidson

As the frontwoman of Chicago freak-rock legends the Coughs, Anya Davidson is uniquely qualified to chronicle, as she does in Band for Life, the exploits of rag-tag noise-marauders tripping their way through the underground music circuit. She’s also a one-of-a-kind artist who brings every still image to vibrant life; Anya’s drawings are as loud as the racket her characters love to make.

Hip Hop Family Tree by Ed Piskor

Comic: Hip Hop Family Tree

Artist: Ed Piskor

What strikes first about Ed Piskor’s Hip Hop Family Tree are the pictures. Here are illustrations as flawlessly executed as the mightiest superhero comics of the Golden Age. Then, after Piskor leads you in eye-first, he stuns as a historian, turning the true-life evolution of the turntable-and-MC revolution into a graphic opera full of drama, humor, and heart. Weed, as you might presume, figures deeply in the proceedings.

Wuvable Oaf by Ed Luce

Comic: Wuvable Oaf

Artist: Ed Luce

Oaf, the hulking and hirsute hero of Wuvable Oaf comics, is a former professional wrestler who frightens upon first sight, but is revealed to be a sensitive Bay Area gay bear who listens to Morrissey and heavy metal while petting his cats and pining for the man of his dreams. Eiffel, the furious and furry object of Oaf’s affection, sings lead for Ejaculoid, a band described as “black metal/queercore/ progressive disco grindcore.” Luce’s vividly specifically romantic comedy is a blast that combines personal passions with jubilantly lively illustrations.

Hate Baby by Corinne Halbert

Comic: Hate Baby

Artist: Corinne Halbert 

In Hate Baby, Corinne Halbert evokes and updates two key art movements of the 1990s: Xerox-and-staple ’zine publishing and black-and-white “shock” comics on the order of Mike Diana’s Boiled Angel. Halbert’s weekly comic strip Honey pushes the sick jokes even further, chronicling the love life of a devoted husband and the rotting corpse of his dead wife. Halbert’s full-color work is absolutely transfixing: A blacklight-poster-inspired conjuring of sexual mayhem, seductive mortality, and the third-eye-opening aspects of marijuana. 

Hairless Who by Joe Tallarico

Comic: Hairless Who

Artist: Joe Tallarico

Brace your eyes for impact prior to perusing Joe Tallarico’s Hairless Who. It’s electrifying. Tallarico’s images pulsate and pull viewers into the page with such magnetic pull, you may look to see if his comic is actually plugged into an AC outlet. Few still images have ever come off more (psycho)actively hallucinogenic.

Summerland by Paloma Dawkins

Comic: Summerland

Artist: Paloma Dawkins

Canadian cartoonist Paloma Dawkins primarily traffics in animated films and video. As a result, Dawkins's graphic novel Summerland flows and whirls with entrancing color, turning every panel into a huge splash of movement. Summerland details the summer vacation and experimentations of young heroine Santana. Pot brownies play a crucial part in the saga.

Goat Fucker Comix by Jack Mulkern

Comic: Goat Fucker Comix

Artist: Jack Mulkern

Publishing house Bloody Gore Comix in general, and Jack Mulkern’s Goat Fucker Comix in particular, transform the weed-whacked anarchy and hell-focused hedonism of extreme heavy metal to the printed page with psychotic outrage, explosively combining harsh buzzes with heady glee and glorious aesthetic overkill. 

Ghost Girl by Inés Estrada

Comic: Ghost Girl

Artist: Inés Estrada

Ghost Girl, the beautifully simple/simply beautiful Vice comic strip by Mexico-City-based multi-talent Inés Estrada, follows the disembodied spirit of a young woman who, while rushing to get to work, trips and falls to her death. Upon her initial emergence, the title character looks upon the lifeless body she’s left behind and muses, “Holy shit! I don’t have to work anymore… EVER!”

Rav by Mickey Zacchili

Comic: Rav

Artist: Mickey Zacchilli

Rav is a modern hero’s journey through seemingly cosmic (or not) netherworlds that calls to mind both Alice in Wonderland and Gary Panter’s underground comics classic Jimbo, although creator Mickey Zacchilli infuses every page with notions and aesthetics all his own.