Drugs and Comics: My Adventure at Planet Comic Con

By Seth Ferranti 04/08/15

You never know what's going to help you stay sober.

Image: 
Supreme Team
Author

I always loved comics. I grew up reading the X-Men, Wolverine, Punisher, Avengers and all the Marvel comics that are being made into big Hollywood blockbuster movies these days. At one point that would have been inconceivable because comics were not trendy. The stoners and skaters were always at the comic shops. Comics were for nerds and kids and outcasts.

But to me, comics were always an escape. Stan Lee was my muse and he created a world I used to get away from the tedious existence of my life as a teenager. For whatever reason, I wasn't happy with life, and comics provided me a temporary reprieve. I was most definitely consumed by suburban angst. Probably why I turned to drugs. 

To me, drugs and comics always went together, just like drugs, sex and rock 'n' roll. Because to me, comics were counterculture, they were rock 'n' roll, they were cool and cliché like the goth chicks in seventh grade. Long before comics went mainstream, they were considered what the nerdy kids were into. Not to say that I was a nerd, but I did play Dungeons and Dragons. I have a long history with comics, just as I do with drugs.

Before I started taking drugs, I had a bunch of little obsessions or addictions, whatever you want to call it. I was enamored by Hot Wheels, Star Wars figures, Legos, baseball cards, and finally, before I made the final lunge and became consumed by drugs, I discovered comic books and became an avid reader. I was obsessed with comics.

I had subscriptions to all my favorite Marvel titles, probably like 20 of them in total, and I used to go to the local comic-book shops and spend hours checking out all the new titles coming out. I would regularly purchase 50-60 books at a time. They were most definitely an infatuation with me and when I started using drugs, mostly marijuana and LSD, my love affair with comics continued.

But I found the typical superhero fare didn’t tantalize my tastebuds as much. I wanted more extreme and diverse stories. I wanted the surreal and bizarre. I started getting into comics like Groo the Wanderer and The Maxx. I was drawn to the more fantastic and fantasy-like comics. I started getting into Alan Moore, Grant Ennis and Grant Morrison, who had his turn on the X-Men, but all of these writers were known more for their use of psychedelics and incorporating that mindframe into their work. Since I was a strong LSD advocate at the time, their acid-infused tales appealed to me.

I should have stayed loyal to comics, but my life went another direction and I ended up going to prison for an LSD conspiracy. In prison I started writing, but not comic books. Not too many people in prison were into comics, but they were into drugs. I continued using drugs while in prison and I reignited my love affair with comics. I used to order 20-30 comics a month through mail order. It helped to occupy my time and since I was still constantly smoking marijuana, even in prison, comics helped me escape into my own little fantasy world while the violent swirl of prison life impacted its deadly force all around me.

Eventually in prison, I stopped using drugs and got clean and sober. At around the same time, I stopped reading comics. I don’t think it was because I stopped using drugs, it was more of a coincidence. My parents had been footing the bill for my comic-book habit for about 10 years at that point and they were tired of the cost, among other costs I had incurred during my incarceration.

Prison was expensive. Especially with a marijuana and comic habit. I wasn’t a college student but I acted like one, though I was in the school of hard knocks.

In prison, I started writing and became a convict author. I also got clean and established a career as a writer. I wrote and published seven non-fiction, true crime books while incarcerated, interviewing inner-city and urban gangsters. Dudes like Supreme from the Southside of Jamaica, Queens. The man who allegedly had 50 Cent shot. I also founded a publishing house, Gorilla Convict, from my cellblock. Publishing books was my new obsession and I have done pretty good at it. 

Now that I’m out, I have continued to write. I’ve also gotten back into comics. But drugs have no part in my life anymore. And this time around, I’m writing comics and not reading them. Well maybe I have read a few, but I’m not going overboard like before. I have to leave those addictive impulses alone. But writing comics is something I’ve always wanted to do, and now that I’m in position and have access, I am doing it. 

To facilitate that goal, I went to my first ever Comic Con on the weekend of March 13-15 in Kansas City. I didn’t know what to expect. I had read a lot about Comic Cons and how they have been getting more popular, but until you go to one you will never comprehend it. It was wall-to-wall people, dressed up as superheroes, Star Wars and Star Trek characters, steam-punkers, pirates, and all types of cartoon and video-game characters. Crazy for real.

I wasn’t even tripping, but I felt like I was on an LSD trip. It was amazing, to say the least. But I was there on business. I know there is a big party scene on the comic book circuit, mostly marijuana and LSD, both my drugs of choice, but I wasn’t there for that. As I make my entrance into the comic book industry that is one part of the scene that I will have to leave alone.

There were tons of exhibitors, with merchandise ranging from t-shirts to jewelry to little trinkets to comic books and prints. Artist’s alley was a big attraction with comic-book writers, artists and editors signing autographs, hawking their wares and just talking to people in general. A whole area was sectioned off for media guests like Cary Elwes from The Princess Bride fame, Scott Wilson from The Walking Dead and Laura Vandervoort from Smallville, among others. 

I attended a lot of the panels with titles like "The Craft of Writing Comics," "How to Self Publish Comics," and "The Business of Self Promotion." I listened to the professional writers, editors and comic book publishers. They had a lot to offer and I couldn’t help but think, “This is a long way from my prison cell and previous life.” And it was.

I had a table displaying my books and a press pass. I didn’t really sell that many of my true crime books but I walked around and handed out a ton of flyers for my upcoming comic book, The Supreme Team, which I am adapting from my book, The Supreme Team: The Birth of Crack and Hip-Hop, Prince’s Reign of Terror and the Supreme/50 Cent Beef Exposed with Stache Publishing, an indie comic book publisher that I got hooked up with. 

I know that drugs and comics have a long history together, but I am confident I can enter the comic book world and not be tempted to use again. Some might say I am tempting fate, but writing comic books and graphic novels is what I really want to do. I have been told many times that the material I cover in my books translates to comics really well. I am working on this first comic with Stache and the story arc for the Supreme Team story will cover three graphic novels. I can’t wait to get it done. 

It's almost the same as when I was using drugs and couldn’t wait to get high, but it's different at the same time. Promoting my work and networking at the comic con was a big step for me in my re-entry and recovery efforts. I am trying to prove that I can assimilate back into society and become a productive, tax-paying citizen. It has been a long road, but well worth it. At times, since I have been out and since I have been off drugs, I feel like a big kid. And being involved with comics doubles that feeling.

I have found in life that I need to replace the feeling of getting high—writing comics, going to comic cons and promoting my work gives me the rush I need to fill the void in my life that drugs were trying to fill. Because for real, it's not really about escaping, as I always thought, it's about being comfortable with myself and who I am. Coexisting with myself and the demons that plague me. 

Because I will always be a drug addict, there’s nothing that says I can’t be a recovering addict and a comic-book writer. I just can’t take drugs, but I can use my past experiences to create transformative stories that can entertain readers. But for real, it's not even about that. It's about me forging ahead in recovery and establishing a viable career now that I am out of prison and off drugs. It's about succeeding and beating the odds and not going back to prison and comics is my avenue to do that.

Seth Ferranti has been a regular contributor to The Fix since 2012. He most recently wrote about being sober after 21 years in prison and how to recover from recoveryHe also writes for Vice. He has a book out—The Supreme Team.

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