Verne Andru’s Captain Cannabis is ready to fly high again

The Vancouver artist’s comics have been described as a “unique mix of science fiction, dark comedy, and gritty realism”

Captain-Cannabis

Verne Andru's comic-book superhero Captain Cannabis.

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Verne Andru has been involved in many successful ventures over the course of his life. He ran a production studio in the 1990s, making TV spots for A&B Sound. The Kitsilano resident created a desktop animation system that’s been used to create web and broadcast content for IKEA and other companies. And his creative work helped the locally produced Simply Accounting software become a blockbuster hit.

The Vancouver-born Andru was also a pioneer in the city’s multibillion-dollar animation and VFX industry. Back in the late ’70s, he was an animator on Hanna-Barbera’s Godzilla Power Hour and Jana of the Jungle.

“It wasn’t outsourced to Asia at that point,” Andru told CannCentral by phone. “We were the first outsourced point for Hollywood for animation.”

But his underlying passion through all of those years has been his Captain Cannabis comic books. The third edition will be released later this summer—43 years after the debut appeared.

Continuing from the previous issues, the main character, a slacker named Hal Lighter, is transformed into Captain Cannabis, thanks to an intragalactic herb. The second main character, Marion Jones, is a survivor of neglect and abuse who juggles relationships with Hal and his cousin Mikey, as well as another character named Ace Spade.

Andru said one reviewer described Captain Cannabis as a “unique mix of science fiction, dark comedy, and gritty realism”.

“This is indie,” Andru emphasized. “I’m doing the underground comic-book thing that was big in the late ’60s and early ’70s, with modern technology like print-on-demand and ebooks, which also gives me hassle-free global distribution.”

His father was a Kmart and Kresge store manager who was transferred to different cities every three years. As a young adult, Andru was living in Winnipeg where there were no animation schools. So he rummaged through the bookstore at the University of Manitoba, where there was an applied-art course, and picked up three books, including two by illustrator Andrew Loomis.

That’s how Andru learned how to improve his skills as an illustrator. When asked about artists who influenced him in that era, he replied: “I think Frank Frazetta is one of the gods of comic books, not that I emulate his work.”

Captain Cannabis creator Verne Andru.

Andru also noted that another U.S. illustrator, Richard Corben, was one of the first cartoonists to use an airbrush.

“I was constantly looking for techniques to be able to do half-tone but still shoot it as line art,” Andru recalled. “So when Corben hit the scene with full-blown airbrush comic books, it was quite a revelation.”

So where did Captain Cannabis come from? The origins go back to a chance encounter with Lloyd Axworthy, a future senior Liberal cabinet minister, in front of a downtown Winnipeg store.

Andru said that Axworthy was stumping for Pierre Trudeau, who was seeking re-election in 1974.

This was two years after the Le Dain Commission of Inquiry into the Non-Medical Use of Drugs recommended legalizing possession of cannabis and cultivation for personal use.

According to Andru, he shook Axworthy’s hand and asked if Trudeau was going to implement the commission’s call to decriminalize weed

“And he said ‘absolutely,’ ” Andru said. “That was my Captain Cannabis green light.”

The cartoonist had already been working on a superhero comic-book series called Captain Canuck. “I figured, well, we’re going to be in a legalized world so I’ll make a cannabis superhero.”

Little did he know at that time that it would take more than four decades for weed to become legal.

He initially completed two Captain Cannabis comic books, relying on photocopying machines. “They wouldn’t do a solid black to save your life,” Andru revealed. “I did a short run of both of them and then continued developing the project as things went on.”

The first official release occurred in 1977, followed by a 40th anniversary second release in 2017, a year before Trudeau’s son, Justin, legalized weed in Canada

“I’m not just somebody who came out of the blue,” Andru said. “All the experts now on 4/20 and pot either weren’t born or were in diapers back when we were starting all this stuff.”

Charlie Smith

I'm the editor of the Georgia Straight newspaper in Vancouver, as well as a CannCentral contributor.

Discussion


  • Wilhelmina Easton June 17, 2020 11:16 PM

    Thursday is not complete without my G.S…
    My bible for everything important in Vancouver,
    from events to attitudes..
    So sorry you have been forced into your current slimness.

  • Nickie June 18, 2020 12:04 AM

    Like this article & have leafed through quite a few being in the Vancouver Weed Culture since 1974! Easter Beings, Has Town, Long John Baldry & of course 4/20 at least that’s something to celebrate this crisis were in! OMG thank God for the pot we have today when we need it the most! Lol

  • richard katz June 18, 2020 06:33 AM

    I worked at the georiga straight in the early-mid 70’s…lived upstairs and spent many hours watching rand holmes and brent boats creating their underground art,..brent was just starting to explore the use of airbrush in creating his comics

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