How Do You Smoke a Weed?—Graphic Novel Review

I have a secret, neither dark nor deep.

Never have I ever smoked pot.

You kids still call it pot, right? Marijuana is pejorative. Grass, Mary Jane, and reefer seem dated, evoking images of chrome-plated vans with tinted windows and Molly Hatchet murals. Personally, I favor jazz lingo like viper, hop, and tea, but that’s showing my age, or rather my grandparents’ age. Wacky tabacky? Leave us not be silly. I’m just disappointed muggle, once slang for a joint, was appropriated by Hogwarts—avada cannabisra.

But as I said, I’ve never smoked or ingested the stuff. When I was very young I bought the anti-drug hype about the addictive effects of weed, every puff of the magic dragon threatening to turn me into a psychotic Dorito-scarfing goblin. Turns out it was all baloney, yet not once did I partake over the past 30 years. I turn down pot the way I pass on Dijon mustard. I don’t hate it. It’s fine if others like it. I’m just not interested.

Plenty of other Americans are interested in cannabis.

Quite interested.

Very interested.

An interest powering the ongoing legalization of medical and recreational use cannabis across the United States—26 states thus far. At this rate, weed will be available in the impulse buy racks by the cash register. (“Anything besides the bread and milk, sir?” “Well, gosh, I think I’l just throw in this dime bag, a box of Ho Hos, and…10 packages of Swedish fish. too”) In light of this, Iron Circus Comics published How Do You Smoke a Weed?, a graphic novel to educate folks on cannabis’ effects and proper methods for blazing up the formerly evil weed. Education is a always good thing. You never know when some neophyte will scarf down a cannabis candy bar, leading to a hotel room freakout or, more regrettably, a column.

How Do You Smoke a Weed? is less a graphic novel and more a primer, with a fairy-tale-like format that won’t scare off the noobs. A slim book, it wears its 60s underground comic influence on its paisley sleeves. The book’s press release cites John Muir’s How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive and Larry Gornick’s The Cartoon History of the Universe series as inspirations, but I see some diluted Zap Comix and Vaughn Bodē in there as well, albeit with smoother lines (by capable artists Lin Visel and Joseph Bergin III), less cynicism and casual misogyny, and fewer post-apocalyptic hellscapes. Though, personally, I wouldn’t want to hang out in the book’s magical kingdom, the Weed Zone. It’s a land of do-as-you-please and smoke-as-you-will populated by giant, furry, talking trees, pig-people, and other fuzzy-creepy beasties. Weed Zone is more freaky than far out.

I have another confession—I love educational comics, and How Do You Smoke a Weed? had me at hello on that level. As mentioned, How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive is an inspiration, but the book resembles other publications, square and hip, that use comic art to teach. In a strange turn, the Channing Bete Company’s Scriptographic line entertainingly educated and warned me about drugs, suicide, depression, and other evergreen issues during my 70s childhood, using charts, cartoony fonts, and bald-headed clone-people. As a young Catholic, The New St. Joseph’s Baltimore Catechism tutored me on the avoidance of sin and the fulfillment of the sacraments through its stark and demented red, black, and white illustrations. Will Eisner’s cartoonish army guides to ordinance taught a generation of soldiers how to maintain their gear through P.S. The Preventive Service Magazine. And currently, Joe Sacco’s work has taught me more about world politics and culture at the interpersonal level than any news, radio, or TV report. Because of their surface simplicity, comics are decried as educational devices. Surely, they overly simplify their subjects, but for communicating the basics, you can’t beat them. Comics convey ideas clearly and imprint words, images, and ideas on your mind. How Do You Smoke a Weed?’s creators made the right call, especially for its subject.

The book follows the unashamedly cutesy journey of Sprout, a young, ambulatory, anthropomorphic sequoia. Sprout enters the Weed Zone, where she encounters a copse of full-grown fellow redwoods toking up. She wishes to join in, but when they pass her the joint she can’t reach it because of a surfeit of metaphor. The sequoias—whose ignition and inhalation of their fellow plant suggests something that’s not quite cannibalism, but worth considering—give her a “Jack Herer weed nug”, then send her on a sickly-sweet-scented journey of weed enlightenment. It’s much like The Wizard of Oz, but far less trippy.

Sprout encounters a cast of pot-positive personifications. She first encounters a bear named Mama Osita—who schools Sprout in proper joint-rolling technique and how cannabis terpenes make you high. Next she meets a literal sow, Pig Badger, and so on. I thinks those are pot joke names, but I fear I’m not “hep” enough to get them. I’m sure they’re hilarious several spliffs later.

The underground comics homage is accompanied by a neo-hippie vibe. Sprout learns how to prepare healthy munchies and create pipes out of fruits and vegetables from a earth mother/gardener named Gigi, who somewhat resembles a callipygian Robert Crumb fantasy. Her partner Vee Vee, a health-conscious witch with a day job at “the firm”, shows up, smokes up, discusses different strains, and teaches Sprout a bar trick using second-hand smoke and bubble solution. Mama Osita and Vee Vee’s bits on the different strains, their cultivation, and specific mind-expanding effects were genuinely interesting. My attention drifted though as the characters informed Sprout that, hey, you know what you can do after you’re high? Play video games, read comics, and listen to music. Hell, I can do that sober. Call me underwhelmed.

The underground comic and neo-hippie tone are appropriate. The book is about removing the mysteries and stigma of smoking pot. How Do You Smoke a Weed? is like a Foxfire book—the last generation to widely imbibe passing on its folkways. At times though, it’s a little passé, a shade white—a bear, a pig, an owl, and a turtle show up, but no Snoop Doggs—not to mention terribly neat and clean. The scruffy Pig Badger notwithstanding, everyone has their shit together. Certainly, so do many pot-smokers, and this helps the march toward respectability. But one imagines a real-life Sprout’s first encounter with grass taking place in a garage, basement, or forest preserve with the school’s biggest head—the way kids learned to smoke back in my day, dagnabbit.

The Weed Zone is a safe space. An incredibly, improbably safe place, with characters—all female, as near as I can tell—providing a day care center of low-stress weed smoking for Sprout. It keeps with one character’s comment, “It’s always good to have an experienced friend close by while trying new things.” But that message gets a bit garbled. Strangers may be friends you haven’t met yet, sure, but I kept thinking, Sprout doesn’t know these people (and animal-people) at all. Who then should the real-life reader trust? Among its many tips, the book doesn’t have much advice on finding responsible “weed buddies.” Or buying weed, for that matter. No, Sprout simply goes from one herb-scented sage to another, building her technique and THC content. Luckily for her, all the humans and funny animals she encounters are holding and uncommonly generous, inviting her to stay in their homes, eat their food, and imbibe bottomless doobage. I noticed none of them run dispensaries, so where the hell is all this weed coming from?

In real life, such ready friendships should set off alarms. Pig Badger tells Sprout that anytime she wants to smoke up, the freshly seasoned young pothead should come see her. This is accompanied by a sound effect caption of FRIENDSHIP UNLOCKED! How adorable. But I gleaned that Pig Badger is jobless and perpetually stoned. Mama Osita’s horror at the swine’s rancid-water-filled bong drained me of confidence in her character (though it nicely sets up a section on the proper cleaning of your glassware). Straight talk: Pig Badger seems like a dirtbag. Then again, Sprout’s none too choosy about her new friends, because, I posit, she is a damn mooch, bogarting multiple joints from total strangers on what I calculate as a two-day weed bender. Sweet Jesus. Are we sure she’s a novice?

Continuing the contrarian viewpoint, while sensible and scientific, what is How Do You Smoke a Weed? ultimately promoting? Purportedly it’s for safe, responsible, and enjoyable cannabis use, but as I mentioned there’s much it doesn’t cover. The prologue wisely stresses checking local laws, and consulting with your doctor about your plans to get lit. The latter should make for an interesting conversation. Unless they’re foursquare for its medical use, I doubt most docs will give the thumbs up on recreational pot smoking any more than they’d recommend several whiskey sours and a cigar before turning in. The book bleeps over long-term effects. Smoke, no matter where you draw it from, is carcinogenic. Mama Osita mentions using “a basic paper filter to help keep tar from my lips”. Lady bear, it’s going somewhere.

I swear I’m not here to judge; only as a book reviewer, not a moral scold. At base, I don’t care. We can presume Sprout is of age, and that in the magical unicorn fairy-tale land where the Weed Zone exists—I’m guessing Oregon—cannabis is legal. All well and good. But they might have rethought the timeline of the book. Sprout repeatedly smokes up over the course of a day, spending the night, buzzed and sleeping standing up in a garden. Granted, it’s her choice and she’s exploring and expanding her horizons on her terms, but my God. Taken literally, Sprout is buzzed and blitzed to varying degrees from morning to the next day’s afternoon (4:20 p.m., to be precise. Chortle chortle.), inhaling every strain you can imagine. I noted that not a one of her newfound cannabis comrades tried to take advantage of her in any way.

The book culminates with Sprout sharing a blunt of train wreck with a word-salad-jabbering “marijuanowl” and his turtle buddy. Shortly thereafter, she becomes too high, and she learns how to deal with it from yet another Crumb-like creature, a talking sun. Good advice, but given after a full-page, illustrated description of the less pleasant effects of pot. Sweating, increased heart rate, paranoia, anxiety, heavy limbs, and couch-lock—in the words of Robin Williams after he stopped doing coke, “A drug that makes you paranoid and impotent? Mmm, give me more of that!”

Throughout her experiences, Sprout gets high, learns about cannabis, gets high, dances, listens to music, gets high, eats matcha pancakes, and…gets even more high. I have several creative friends who smoke or have smoked pot, claiming it helped them relax and sparked inspiration. Which is good. Personally, I like a snort of whiskey now and again during my writing sessions. That’s another plus for recreational drug use. But Sprout doesn’t do much of anything but get toasty; not a heartening message in a time requiring extra vigilance. A throwaway gag involves one of the neo-hippie ladies explaining how to make nutritious snacks for the munchies in advance—including blueberries coated in maple syrup, cocoa, and cayenne pepper. Later on, while experiencing Cheech and Chong levels of highness, she notices the snacks and says, “Gasp! Oh yeah—my Hot Bloobies. Thanks, sober me!” Sprout and her partner have a good laugh at her memory loss, which seems problematic. To be fair, the witches provide the most sensible and square approach to weed use of all the characters, making it clear, for example, that operating a vehicle and just before going to work aren’t the best times to light up. Another observation: Sex is strangely absent from Sprout’s world. That’s a pretty big omission. Then again, it’s good that no one attempts to take advantage of her in her extra-inebriated state. Just another aspect that could have been covered.

And yet, it works. How Do You Smoke a Weed? (Side note: the addition of the a to the title rankles my inner/outer editor) is admirably honest, and both shows and tells. We are spared disingenuous nonsense about growing hemp to, um, you know, uh, make rope, or that legal grass will save the economy overnight. This book is about getting high. I’d put it on par with a drink mixing guide, though I’ve yet to see one that provides details on the particular sensations of, say, a vodka versus a whisky drunk, or how to come down from a nasty champagne hangover. Comparatively, the average bartending book is far more circumspect about the debilitating effects of alcohol.

After reading How Do You Smoke a Weed? I asked myself, if Illinois made pot perfectly legal across the board, would I, with my newfound knowledge, dabble?

Probably not. In fact, nah.

I’m cheap, and don’t want another expense. I have less time to burn these days, so to speak. While I’m not as fit as I could be, I don’t believe you should put anything into your lungs but air. Also, compared with pouring a drink, pot-smoking seems complicated. Learning to roll joints? Differentiating between indica, sativa, and hybrids, and when to use which?  And I already annihilate 20 minutes each night emptying and loading the dishwasher. Now I have to clean up my bong, bubbler, and pipes with a solution of salt and isopropyl alcohol before…dear God, I’m already bored. It feels like slippery slope. Not into harder drugs, but into a mindset I find irritating in tea and wine snobs. No, thank you. But that doesn’t mean I’ll stop others old enough from indulging. How very big of me.

To its credit, How Do You Smoke a Weed? is entertaining, educational, and doesn’t prevaricate. It’s about getting high, but being sensible about it. Ultimately, How Do You Smoke a Weed? cleverly suggests replacing “just say no” with “just say why?”

Dan Kelly
Dan Kelly

Dan Kelly has been a writer and editor for 30 years, contributing work to Chicago Magazine, the Chicago Reader, Chicago Journal, The Baffler, Harvard Magazine, The University of Chicago Magazine, and others.


  1. I learned new things or information from this blog. Marijuana does a lot of wonders nad is very beneficial to the body. Thank you very much for sharing this.

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