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Interview with 'Ganjaman' Creator Jim Stewart

With 'Ganjaman,' comic artist Jim Stewart fights for stoner rights, one bad guy at a time.

Image courtesy of Jim Stewart

Ganjaman is a superhero of an atypical strain, but a superhero nonetheless; this part-cannabis plant, part-human dynamo has been fighting "for the rights of tokers" since UK based creator Jim Stewart first started drawing his character in 1995. Ganjaman stories have since appeared in numerous publications including Stewart's self-published editions of Ganjaman Presents, which feature recurring alliances, enemies, and stoner-centric predicaments. 

They say that not every hero has a cape. Instead, Jim Stewart wields a pencil, ink and a wildly imaginative sense of humor, weapons he uses to fight the stigmatization of cannabis via (cape-wearing) Ganjaman and entertain his readers along the way. 

Image courtesy of Jim Stewart

Potent: Who is Ganjaman, in five words?

Jim Stewart: The dope-toking stupor hero.

How would you characterize Ganjaman’s personality?

Think: Bugs Bunny on weed.

Why is the comic world in need of a character like Ganjaman?

Because Cannabis has been demonized too long, it's time that the world saw through the lies. Comics can be the best and most direct form of satire.

Do you see your comic as a tongue-in-cheek derivative of the traditional Superman paradigm, or more a matter of social or political commentary?

It started as a piss-take of Supes, but I wanted to set him in my own country, where cannabis has been illegal for far too long. I have three drug (weed) convictions so I wanted to educate the young ones that there are consequences to smoking the herb, jail time is bad for your health. 

It’s bad for your employment prospects to have a conviction and it’s hard being in jail. I guess it quickly became social/political commentary on the madness of the law. Despite the fact (and it is fact) that medical professionals and research have demonstrated that cannabis does less harm than alcohol or cigarettes to both individual and society, there’s no movement in parliament.

How do people typically find you and your work?

Do you mean how they judge it, or how do they actually find it?

Judging it:

Mostly they find it and me funny – it’s weed-based but it goes wider; people who’ve never touched the stuff in their life (including artists and writers that I’ve collaborated with) just find it funny. Most of the early stuff I wrote stoned without anyone editing – it shows, but I’ve had comments that my spelling was also hilarious at that time.

Finding it:

Most people find the comics and me by traditional methods – word of mouth and rocking up to a stall at a Con. Can’t tell you how many folk have been casually browsing and then been completely engaged by the concept. Otherwise, my strips are in Soft Secrets and they’re available in the US through Horn Dog.

Which Ganjaman comic is your personal favorite? What about your fans’?

I think it would be "Tar Wars" co-written with Alan Grant, the co-creator of Judge Dredd. I did 1,000 of those and they sold out quickly. 

My latest title is called Ganjaman Presents, the first issue just sold out of a 2,000 print run, so I would say the fans like that one. I'm working on issue four now.

Have you been approached about possibly expanding the character into other mediums (TV Show, Web Series)? Will you?

No, me and a pal (Stoo) have been working on some animation, once we’ve completed four shorts, we're hoping to send them to MTV who, I hear, have their own weed channel now. But we're doing it ourselves, would much prefer some other company stepped in. The first one is on YouTube.

Top picks in actors to play Ganjaman on the big screen and why?

Would have to say Brad Pitt, with Mike Myers doing the voice. Because Brad is a bit of a weed warrior himself. But if they aren't free then Gerard Butler and Sean Connery for the voice will have to do. Because I'm not fussy.

Which other artists and writers do you read/admire?

I grew up reading Jack Kirby comics, then when I was around 18, I picked up my first Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers comic, and instantly Gilbert Shelton became my fave creator.

Outside comics, I like Stephen King and James Herbert.

Is Ganjaman intended for a specific niche audience in the comic world, or did you see an opportunity in the unexplored 'cannabis themed' space in comics?

Let’s be honest – I’m an artist, so there was no plan! I created him in 1994, so that was before Ali G and Kevin Smith's Blunt Man and Chronic popped up. As I stated above I was obsessed with the Freak Brothers and wanted to do something in that vein, I started off doing 22 page Ganjaman stories until I met David Alexander around 1998 and we decided to do a dope comic called Northern Lightz, I had to learn to write one and two-pagers, and finally three-panel newspaper strips. The strips were getting smaller all the time, but with bigger audiences. The strips are generally only read by niche audience, the comics go wider. I generally find that my ‘market’ has become wider, over the years. I don’t really see an “unexplored cannabis themed” space in comics, I do see a space for Underground and just funny comics – most independent comics these days are horror or grueling in some way. Mine’s just fun.

What has been your most frustrating barrier to date in terms of censorship?

Well, some comic shops would not take them, and one shop owner told me he would take them if I took the "adults only" off the cover, I said no as the Daily Mail had slammed me saying I should be ashamed of myself and that cannabis causes schizophrenia. Forbidden Planet in Glasgow banned any comic I came out with, even though they peddle comics about murder, sex, rape and school girl fantasy crap. That’s been the hardest thing to deal with – hypocrisy. 

Photo courtesy of Jim Stewart

Are any of your storylines inspired by real-life developments in the cannabis industry? Could you give us an example?

I read that the police in America are planning to use weaponized weed. So I did a story of Ganjaman with all those gadgets like Batman's i.e. Canna-net, Canna-stairs ,Canna-baton.

I’ve also done lots of strips regarding legalisation across the US states.

Which illustrators influenced you most in terms of your aesthetic vision and narrative structure?

Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and John Byrne, I would have to say. I still buy old underground comix from the 60s and 70s so I'm picking up on old creators all the time, sadly most are dead now, Spain Rodriguez and Dave Sheridan for instance. Robert Crumb is growing on me, and Pete Loveday is really cool.

What are the benefits of remaining independently published? Why is this the route you chose?

No one telling me what to draw is great. And I still own copyright of all my work. I've heard some bad stories of creators working for big companies. I self-publish and I’m also published in Soft Secrets every 2 months and it's fun to see my cartoons printed in newsprint and distributed over Europe.

Ganjaman has had many enemies over the years, many of whom are now dead (i.e. The Incinerator, Snow Queen, E , Doctor Heroin). Are there any you wish you hadn’t killed off?

Not really, a wise man once wrote "you've got to kill your darlings", I killed Ganjaman off, but the superhero version of him, I wanted to go down the sword and sorcery route, but Alan Grant loved him too much so I had to figure a way to resurrect him.

Your comics are translated into many languages such as Dutch, Italian, Spanish, French, Russian, and Czech; are there any barriers to writing in a way that translates cross-culturally? Are comics universally consumed by readers?

I had trouble in the beginning, I hadn't planned for Ganjaman to be read outside Scotland, never mind the UK, so he had some Scottish slang, then when it came to the newspaper strips being translated, the translators always asked what something meant so I just cut out the slang altogether. Europe has plenty of great comics, so the readers are out there.

Image courtesy of Jim Stewart

Who are Ganjaman’s parents?

Sadly he has none. He was made in a lab unbeknown by Professor Brian Brain.

Which of your characters do you personally relate to most?

Marijuana Girl is a cool character to write, I always loved the strong female characters in comics. She is more powerful than Ganjaman.

Who would win in a fight, Marijuana Girl or Hash Man?

Marijuana Girl would easily beat him. She could stone him into submission with a teleganjanetic bolt.

Where can we keep updated on the adventures of Ganjaman and your other comics?

Soft Secrets have all their issues online so Ganjaman can be seen in every issue going back to 2003. Other sites are Twitter and Facebook. Plus this site, which hasn't been updated for a while.

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