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Drawing on the History of Psychedelics

Brian Blomerth’s two graphic novels present stories from psychedelic history.

Art by Brian Blomerth / Anthology Editions

Brian Blomerth might not have written the book on psychedelic history, but he’s certainly illustrated the novel.

A cartoonist and visual artist, he’s created work for Dead and Company, VICE, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, as well as Phish. Inspired by manga artist Suiho Tagawa and Disney legend Floyd Gottfredson, his art reflects the visual style of comic strips from the ‘40s and ‘50s. “The ‘funny animal’ genre of cartooning looks to me like the gold standard,” he told us from his home in Brooklyn. “I love it and think it’s utterly insane.”

Blomerth’s two graphic novels present stories from the history of psychedelics. “Bicycle Day” recounts the time Albert Hofmann took that historic dose of LSD, while “Mycelium Wassonii” involves R. Gordon and Valentina Wasson’s experiences with mushrooms and is described as a “globetrotting vision of hallucinatory science and religious mysticism with appearances by Life Magazine, the CIA, and the Buddha.”

He explained initially getting the idea while watching a documentary where Hofmann recounted his experience during that first intentional acid trip. After reading Hofmann’s book “My Problem Child,” Blomerth knew this was the perfect choice for jumpstarting the project. From there, his fascination and respect for the history has only grown. “Hofmann really believed LSD had an actual home as a substance within medicine …The Wasson’s were amateur mycologists,” said Blomerth. “They read about and researched mushrooms as a hobby and that snowballed into their meeting with Maria Sabine.”

You might assume this artist starts each project off with a heroic dose and a pad of paper, but the process really begins with tons of investigation. “I try to read as much as I can about the subjects, even things by other minor characters in the books, compile as much research as possible, then simplify it down as far as it can go,” he explained. 

With each book, he’s illustrating more than a story – creating a visual language that reflects the substance. “In ‘Bicycle Day’ I used Neon Inks … which is made in a lab like LSD. For ‘Mycelium Wassonii’ I used watercolors because they have a long tradition of use by naturalists documenting plants, and because they are natural pigments,” said Blomerth. “Also, since language seems to play a big part in a mushroom trip, I gave one to the mushrooms in the book.” 

Blomerth is crafting an easily digestible version of history for future generations. In his eyes, the quick-to-read, easy-to-follow path comic books carve out for readers can present dense information, but in an extremely simple way. ”Psychedelics are currently being re-evaluated by science and things are opening up in that regard,” said Blomerth. “So I think a simple book about them is an easy way to get that history out there and maybe inform someone that wouldn’t normally go for a larger text. I don’t think that any of these will change someone’s mind about psychedelics … but the history to me is fascinating.” 

We asked what his next book is about, hoping to catch a glimpse – but he answered cautiously. “I’m only on page 50 and it still has a way to go. These books all sort of work like puzzles and I’m still in the pulling my hair out phase.”

brianblomerth.com | @pupsintrouble

This article was originally published in the August 2023 issue of All Magazines.

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