Let’s do the drugs first. Whoo-hoo!
I think I wrote the first drug use story in the Comics Code era. It appeared in this issue of Action Comics:
It was the second feature, a Legion of Super-Heroes story entitled “Forbidden Fruit.” Comic Book Database, www.comicbookdb.com
, while often useful, gives credit for writing this story jointly to Mort Weisinger and me. Why do they do that? Mort never co-wrote anything with me, or even made a significant edit on any of my scripts. Sigh. No, I wrote it, just me.
The story was published in April of 1969.
The story, MY story:
A very rare fruit from Planet Oomar in the Tenth Galaxy called the lotus fruit contains a highly addictive, psychotropic chemical. A nefarious miscreant, referred to only as the “Doctor,” controls the only source of the fruit in this galaxy. Through some ambitious machinations the Doctor manages to manipulate a Legionnaire—Timber Wolf, as it happens, but anyone would do—into drinking the distilled nectar of the lotus fruit. One shot of the concentrated nectar is enough to get Timber Wolf thoroughly hooked.
The Doctor’s plan is to get Timber Wolf to get other Legionnaires hooked, and then…? Who knows what evil lurks….
Timber Wolf is driven by his addiction to cooperate. He’ll do anything the Doctor asks in order to earn his next piece of fruit.
Timber Wolf offers his girlfriend, Light Lass, a lotus fruit, but something odd in his manner makes her suspicious. She refuses.
Light Lass clandestinely follows Timber Wolf, sees him eat the lotus fruit he offered her and witnesses its effects. Later, she follows him on his way to meet the Doctor, desperately seeking more fruit.
The Doctor offers Timber Wolf a big basket of lotus fruit if he will promise to share it with other Legionnaires. Timber Wolf would agree to anything at this point.
Light Lass uses her gravity manipulation powers to levitate the basket out of the Doctor’s hands and grabs it. She has come prepared. She places a sensor in the basket wired to a small explosive device on her belt. If it goes off, the blast will surely kill her, though the collateral damage will be slight. If one of the fruits in the basket is but touched, she dies. No one else will be harmed.
Timber Wolf almost takes a piece of the fruit he wants so badly, but cannot. Not if it means his beloved will die.
Timber Wolf summons enough willpower to resist his addiction long enough to strike down the Doctor.
Light Lass calls the police. Disarms the bomb. Yes, it was for real. And she allows Timber Wolf to eat a lotus fruit to end his suffering. She holds him, comforts him. Her faith in his love led her to risk all. His love for her saved her, and now her love for him will see him through the dark time ahead. He’ll have to go through a difficult rehab, but he’ll be okay, she knows it.
But that’s not how the story saw print. The Comics Code Authority rejected the story.
There was nothing specific about drug use in the 1954 Comics Code, still in effect in 1969, but there was a catch-all provision:
“All elements or techniques not specifically mentioned herein, but which are contrary to the spirit and intent of the Code, and are considered to be violations of good taste and decency, shall be prohibited.”
Drug use fell under that dictum, apparently. If you are not familiar with the 1954 Comics Code, it’s available in many places. Here’s one:
So, Mort Weisinger and DC caved in. I had to rewrite the ending so that Timber Wolf was cured the second his love for Light Lass broke the spell of the lotus fruit. Here’s the last scene:
To this day, I don’t know why that ending is supposedly better, or why it satisfied the Code.
So, why did I try a drug story?
In the late 1960’s, drugs were all around. I suppose they always had been, but suddenly the world was on a binge and it wasn’t confined to the shadows. Even in my seemingly innocent and idyllic suburban high school. A guy named Mike sat behind me in Physics II high as a weather balloon on the substance du jour every day. And he’d tell me all about it in rambling whispers. Even if I wanted to listen to the lecture on atomic orbitals instead.
He financed his stationary trips by selling nickel bags of marijuana ($5, yes, I’m that old) and did a brisk business. Another guy whose dad owned a pharmacy illegally sold legal drugs—mother’s little helpers, go-pills, any prescription upper or downer you wanted. Cough syrup with codeine was a big commodity. NyQuil, when it came along, was too. Some idiots even sniffed glue. Butyrate Dope was the Cadillac of sniffables, maybe because of the name. I never saw any evidence of heroin use, but I wouldn’t dismiss the possibility.
A girl named Sue, a beautiful, brilliant girl, and one of the top ten in my class, saw me at the mall one day and asked me if I’d give her a ride home. Sure. She invited me in. We were sitting in her family’s kitchen, drinking coffee with her parents ten feet away in the living room. Oblivious to danger (high, I guess) she chirpily recited to me the list of drugs she’d done: “I ate this, then I ate that….” I kept trying to tell her ixnay. No luck. I don’t know what happened after I left….
I didn’t go to college, but I spent a lot of time on college campuses while in high school and thereafter. I took art classes at Carnegie-Mellon University. (It was still called Carnegie Tech when I first started the classes.) Think there were drugs to be found in the College of Fine Arts building? I believe smoking weed was a course requirement, at least in the theater department.
Because I took classes at Carnegie Tech/Carnegie-Mellon, I was entitled to use the Hunt Library. I practically lived there. That’s where I first got my hands on a copy of Seduction of the Innocent, by the way.
I also occasionally spent time at the University of Pittsburgh. I was in a special program that provided science geeks like me the opportunity to perform lab assistant grunt work for science professors doing research. Actual experience (however grunty) in an actual lab, plus being coached, advised and taught by a real scientist…wow, groovy.
I was told that people there cooked LSD for themselves and their friends. I saw the darkroom. Were they kidding? Pranking the doofus high school kid? I don’t know, but there sure was a lot of LSD around. It wasn’t even illegal back then. Several people offered me some. Free. I turned it down.
I didn’t do any drugs at all back then. Not even alcohol. No money, no time. And since I wasn’t likely to succeed because of my looks or athletic abilities, I didn’t want to muddle my mind any more than it already was.
I have had two drug experiences in my life. In high school, I often had to stay up all night working to make deadlines for Mort. It was hard. Coffee and No-Doze didn’t cut it. A guy I knew gave me some spansules he said would help. Ritalin, he said, a mild stimulant. I looked it up. Yep. A mild stimulant.
Late one night, as I was fading out with a drop-dead deadline looming, I took two, as advised. Suddenly wide awake, I did two days’ worth of work, eight pages of script and layouts, in a few hours. Then I drove at 4 AM to the main Post Office in downtown Pittsburgh in my beat-up junkyard-ready 1963 TR4 (bought for $400) flat out in fourth gear on winding, follow-the-creek roads (like McLaughlin’s Run, for you ‘Burgh people). Thank God there was no one else on the road. I mailed the work air mail special delivery—the stamp cost an outrageous $.55!—which would get the package to DC Comics the next day, saving my job.
Then I drove around like a mad loon at 110 MPH. If there had been a squirrel I could have caught I would have eaten it raw. If my girlfriend had been around, well…let’s just say I was extremely motivated. Sometime before normal people were on the roads (it was Saturday), I started to wind down. I went home and slept all day, all night and woke up Sunday morning.
A friend had a Physician’s Desk Reference. I paged through it until I found a pill that looked like the ones I’d taken. Dexedrine. The highest dosage.
Got rid of the rest of those pills in a hurry….
Many years later, a girlfriend made pot brownies. She insisted I eat one. We were in a safe place, no obvious risk factors. Okay.
It put me to sleep fast. No tolerance for the stuff, I guess.
I was doing commercial, advertising comics for U.S. Steel and others when Stan’s Spider-Man drug story and Denny’s Green Lantern/Green Arrow/Speedy (Speedy…! Heehee!) drug story came out. I never read them. Were they good?
However, I have seen a lot of stories involving drugs since. Generally, it seems to me that they are dorkier and more comic-booky than “Forbidden Fruit” as published, in my opinion. The addicts are caricatures, the pushers are caricatures, the effects of the drugs are either cartoony-bad or cartoony-beneficial, giving the user unbelievable stamina, strength or imperviousness to pain. Sorry Frank.
The portrayal of drug use in comics is one of our great failings. One of the reasons that Big Entertainment Media laugh at us. Not that they often get it right.
NEXT: Sex and Drugs Part 2 – Sex