Publisher: Paranoid American

In the United States, there was a program called D.A.R.E. from 1983-2009. D.A.R.E stood for Drug and Alcohol Resistance Education. The purpose of the program was to educate children about how dangerous drugs could be. Coupled with the “Just Say No” campaign that came out around the same time. Almost every member of Generation X was indoctrinated to be anti-drug during elementary school years.

By the time the ’90s came around one would think drugs would have been completely off the streets. There shouldn’t have been a demand because we were told through all of our formative years how bad drugs were. “Cracking Up” gives us a history lesson you’ll never forget about why the clean streets didn’t happen.

The story begins in Oakland, California in 1993. Nancy Reagan is congratulating herself on how successful the D.A.R.E. Program was and how it’s on its tenth anniversary. At this point, the D.AR.E. mascot takes off his mask and fills us in on a few things that may not have gotten enough attention during the “War on Drugs”.

We learn that in the early ’80s the was a coup in Nicaragua. Rather than supporting the existing government and its black elected officials, President Reagan and the C.I.A. gave their money, weapons, and support to the Contra (terrorists overthrowing the government that happened to be white).

Contra’s most lucrative way to finance everything their revolution was by selling cocaine in the states. We get a lesson on how C.I.A. operatives were running Nicaragua’s military as well as ensuring that the drugs were flowing freely.

We also get to learn about “Freeway” Rick Ross, the father of crack cocaine. Rick was one of the biggest distributors of cocaine in the Los Angeles area. Somewhere along the way, Rick figured out that if you dilute cocaine with some baking soda, add water, and bake it someone can get the same high as they would from blow but he wouldn’t have to sell as much, making more profit for himself.

We also get a lesson on how even though crack and cocaine are almost identical on a chemical level, the legal penalties for being arrested in possession of crack are much more severe.

With all of the adult content I would say this is not a children’s story.

Art:

While the artwork in this title may not be quite as detailed as I’d like it doesn’t it from being powerful. I especially liked when Daren first started talking to us.

It’s unfortunate that I didn’t get to see a cover for this one. I am very curious what the creative team would have come up with.

.75 Stars

Story:

At nine pages “Cracking Up” might be little, but it’s loud. This book isn’t afraid to point out the shady ways the U.S. operatives “allegedly” were actively bringing illegal drugs into the country while we were fighting a “war on drugs”.

1 Star

Dialogue

There’s a lot of talking in “Cracking Up”, but most of it serves as a narrative rather than interaction between characters. The narrative reads like a documentary in places, but it’s informative.

.75 Stars

Editing:

This one is an editor’s dream and nightmare all rolled into one. How do you fact check illegal drugs being brought into the country by our spies?

All the different angles that the lettering had to be done from could not have been easy, but they pulled it off nicely.

.75 Stars

Mechanics:

I can’t believe how quickly this one pulled me in and made me ask, “Then what happened?”

It’s not a high stakes story, but it is very interesting and keeps the reader wanting more.

.75 Stars

I was grateful for the opportunity to learn about some of parts of 20th Century America that were overlooked in class. I think you’ll enjoy this guided tour of the 80’s as well.

More About Cracking Up and Paranoid American

Sophomore comic writers Matthew and Brittany Loisel team up with up-and-coming artist Dave Law to deliver a culturally significant short story about the 80s LA Crack Epidemic: Cracking Up. The nine page illustrated story will be the latest addition to the Paranoid American History anthology, by Paranoid American.

Dave Law is an artist and co-creator of the sci-fi space opera series, The Space Odditorium, and has contributed to Wrong Magnetic Poles and the eclectic anthology Hot Dog Water.

Matthew and Brittany Loisel are the writers of Murder, a wildly sucessful Kickstarter-backed comic series which sees animals around the world begin to link telepathically, and retaliate against their oppressors alongside human animal rights activist The Butcher’s Butcher.

LetterSquids is a comic letterer and graphic designer based in Connecticut. He has projects with Scout Comics, Action Lab, Advent Comics, Insight Comics and tons of amazing indie creators.

Cracking Up follows the story of “Freeway Rick” Ross, who was sentenced to life in prison after purchasing over 100 kilos of cocaine in a single sting operation. Based largely on the research from Gary Webb’s Dark Alliance, Cracking Up traces the direct ties between the CIA and the explosion of cocaine and crack that found its way into black neighborhoods of Los Angeles during the 1980s and 1990s.

Paranoid American History is an ongoing anthology series by Paranoid American which highlights a specific “conspiracy theory” from American History by pairing up a different artist and writer team for a short story. Other stories include Geronimo’s Grave (about presidential graverobbing), Operation Midnight Climax (government sanctioned mind control) and I am a Myth (a surreal aspect of the JFK assassination).

“Americans are taught their government has been a benevolent actor throughout history, protecting its citizens and their rights. But in reality the United States government to this day has actively worked to oppress it’s Black citizens. The myth that government sponsored oppression of Black Americans ended during the Civil Rights Movement needs to be rejected and my hope is Cracking Up will help move that process along.” – Matthew Loisel

“This is one of those stories that is not only entertaining with larger than life characters but needs to be told. I immediately knew it would be fun and challenging to illustrate. The experimental narrative style gave me the opportunity to push the boundaries of how I’ve been creating sequential art, and the ultimate result truly demonstrates the power of collaboration.” – Dave Law

Cracking Up will be available at Paranoid American in 2021. The Paranoid American History anthology is available to read now for free at https://paranoidamerican.com. A printed version is planned for the following year.
Cracking Up and Paranoid American History will also be available for purchase across many digital platforms, including Amazon Kindle, Apple Books, comiXology, and Google Play.