3/16/15

Is the Comic "Mary Jane & Sniffles" About Drugs?

The other day at dinner I was reminded of a Mary Jane and Sniffles story and started to talk about it when my wife interrupted:

"Mary Jane and Sniffles? That's so obviously marijuana and cocaine. C'mon, it's about drugs, isn't it?"

Well, that's a good question.

If you don't remember, "Mary Jane and Sniffles" stories were found in Looney Toons and Merrie Melodies comics of the 40's and 50's.  Mary Jane is a human girl who has a mouse friend named Sniffles.  When Sniffles wanted to go on an adventure he'd ask Mary Jane to accompany him, and she would make herself small. They would then travel into the miniature world of the forest animals and bugs, or a story book, or some fantasyland where they could solve a crisis. The adventure usually ended with Mary Jane's mother waking her after the crisis was averted.  Sometimes when Mary Jane woke from her adventure she was dazed as if it were a daydream, but often there was some concrete evidence of the episode.

Mary Jane's exact technique for getting small varied.  Originally she sprinkled herself with magic sand, saying "Magic sand, magic sand, make me small at my command!" or sometimes "Oh, magic sand upon me fall, and make me very, very small!"

In 1949, the words became:
"First I shut my eyes real tight,
and then I wish with all my might,
Magic words of Poof, Poof, Piffles,
Make me just as small as Sniffles!"




The magic was external to Mary Jane, since one time when Mary Jane was already asleep, Sniffles took it upon himself to make her small.
"Oh, magic words of Poof Poof Piffles,
Please grant my wish, for I am Sniffles,
Make Mary Jane as small as me,
So Alphabet Land we both can see."

















OK, thinking about it, I have to admit there could be some covert drug references there. Maybe I'm influenced by Steve Martin's exhortation to "get small!" which obviously came much later.  Or,  was Mr. Martin was unintentionally recalling Mary Jane?

But looking more closely, there are other possible drug references. Magic sand is conceptually cocaine.

Additionally, Sniffles is on record as having a drinking problem. In his debut, the 1939 short Naughty But Mice, Sniffles has a cold and is searching for a remedy. He eventually stumbles upon an alcoholic cold medicine, drinks it, and becomes intoxicated. 


Even in the 50's Sniffles still liked drinking, as seen by his preference for the punch as this party.

The stories seem feature a lot of mushrooms.  For example, on this cover they are having "tea" under a giant mushroom

Consider too, whether the story is real or hallucinated. When Mary Jane returns from being small she's sometimes groggy or confused, like she has been asleep, or daydreaming.  One time Mary Jane and Sniffles battle some graham cracker animals. When she wakes up it seems obviously a daydream.  Another time Mary Jane awakes and we see her mother on one side of the panel, and Sniffles hiding in the other corner, so they must exist in the same reality.







Although the comic was for kids, kids were not writing & drawing the stories. Chuck Jones, famed director of many Bugs Bunny cartoons, created the idea of Sniffles for the Warner Bros. cartoons in 1939.  Sniffles was designed by Charles Thorson, who also designed Bugs Bunny.  Did either of them want to subvert the youth of America with hidden drug messages?

Probably not. Sniffles faded from cartoons, and didn't seem to get popular until he met Mary Jane in the comics in 1941.  So, Sniffles was named before he met Mary Jane, although it could be that someone in the comics decided to pair them up as a joke.

Many of the post-1951 "Mary Jane and Sniffles" stories were drawn by Al Hubbard, but he's not the Al Hubbard known as the Johnny Appleseed of LSD.  Allan Hubbard had a long career as an animator at Disney, artist on Looney Toons, and then later an artist for Walt Disney's Comics & Stories.   Hubbard's style reminds me of Walt Kelly's. Compare the beetles in the Mary Jane story with Kelly's little Weevil child.

Al Hubbard
Walt Kelly



Hubbard gave Mary Jane has a certain je ne sais quoi, almost an adult allure at times. Take for example her "hep" lingo when talking about be-boppers, or the way she posed and talked.



But Hubbard seemed to avoid the drug references.  For example, whether due to his writing, or from complaints, Hubbard dropped the magic sand, leaving just the words, which Mary Jane would pronounce with her fingers crossed.

To discover the real answer, we have to look at who paired up Sniffles with Mary Jane, and that is the editor/writer Chase Craig. Craig was later known for editing "Magnus, Robot Fighter" at Gold Key. When he started working on the Merrie Melodies comics, he added a lot of backup Warner Brothers characters to the comics for filler. His newlywed bride's name was Mary Jane Green, so he used her name as the inspiration for Sniffles's companion Mary Jane.

So, the answer is No. It's not about drugs, it's about a young comics writer and his post-WWII newlywed bride -- a sweet love story after all.

Although... consider a retcon reboot? A story about Mary Jane as an adult, and the troubling memories she has about her childhood...?

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