A graphic memoir detailing a pot-dealing scheme that helped finance treatment for those dying from AIDS in the early days before the epidemic even had that name.
Both the title and the format suggest the humorous spirit of irreverence, though the subject is deadly serious. The author and the male nurse who is the protagonist were part of “a small tight-knit outsider community” in New York City at a time when AIDS was mainly a scary rumor and the entire cultural context was different. “So what’s the difference between a comic book and a graphic novel?” one of the group asked Brabner, wife of the late Harvey Pekar, whose deadpan, matter-of-fact sensibility she seems to share. “One is spaghetti. Sometimes Spaghettios. The other is pasta,” she replied. During a period when gay life was marginalized and grant money went elsewhere, a small conspiracy decided to fund itself through “the Colombian Arts Council Grant,” a euphemism for smuggling high-grade marijuana for profits that could subsidize live performances and other art projects. Yet with the emergence of the virus, the profits started to serve a different purpose: to buy and smuggle different drugs, illegal and experimental but available in Mexico. So much was trial and error back then, the testing and the treatment, that much of what they brought back was more short-term benefit than long-term cure. “We sold weed at premium prices to the healthy to support our friends however we could,” writes the author. “And gave it away free to the sick. It helped with the pain and nausea.” The Robin Hood band proved to be the vanguard in a battle that belatedly received mainstream support, not only because it was too widespread to ignore, but “because somebody’s starting to realize this isn’t just a queer disease.” But this is a story of early warning, recognition and action.
The art of cartoonist Zingarelli underscores the tone of the text.