It was ten years in the making but earlier this year a beautiful collaboration between storyteller David Malmo-Levine and artist Bob High called Vansterdam Comix hit the bookshelves. Detailing the decades of cannabis activism in Vancouver, as well as other parts of Canada, that lead to the legalisation of pot in 2018, the comic book masterfully tells readers the story of how cannabis was originally cultivated and used, as well as the “war on drugs” and how it still impacts our society and culture today. While Malmo-Levine tells these fascinating interwoven stories of raids, rallies and redemption with a splash of humour, Bob High’s highly detailed and vibrant illustrations help bring the history of pot to life.
The idea for Vansterdam Comix was initially conceived back in the early 2000s. Unfortunately in April 2004, all but one page of the original copy was destroyed in a fire started by an arsonist. With the single page that escaped a fiery end, Malmo and Bob High started over on their comic book that would eventually comprehensively chronicle the global drug war and various antiprohibition advocates and movements. After completing the second draft, Malmo pitched Vansterdam Comix to a number of book publishers and cannabis industry insiders until Don Briere, owner of cannabis brand and retailer Weeds Glass and Gifts, invested in 2018. After years of setbacks, the comic book-style cannabis encyclopedia was finally published with the surviving page from 2004 included as the last page. The book contains – of course – 420 pages packed with heartwarming and heartbreaking anecdotes from the frontlines of Canadian cannabis reform.
A manifesto of sorts, Vansterdam Comix touches on all aspects of cannabis and the subculture borne from it, from exposing myths and misinformation about cannabis culture perpetuated by sensationalist media, politicians and peace enforcement agencies that stigmatized generations of cannabis users to providing tips for would be black-market sellers. The book is also full of hilarious and poignant tales featuring prominent figures in the Vancouver cannabis community such as lawyer John Conroy and Vansterdam Comix patron Don Briere and his partner Carol Gwilt as well as pivotal events in the cannabis movement such as Vancouver’s first Cannabis Day in July of 1996. Malmo takes some inspiration from Noam Chomsky so readers should prepare for some radical, politically charged rhetoric!
David Malmo-Levine is a cannabis activist and self-proclaimed agitator who frequently writes about reefer madness, including on his website PotFacts.ca. His work has also been published in Cannabis Culture and High Times.
Bob High is a Vancouver based artist and illustrator. His works were once prominent in Vancouver grey market dispensaries and today many of the alleys and streets in Vancouver’s DTES are adorned with murals in Bob’s unique style.
WEEDS Glass & Gifts were once one of Canada’s most prolific chain of dispensaries. For now, they operate an online store only where readers can purchase Vansterdam Comix as well as a selection of handmade glass by Canadian artists.