Long before DMC unlaced his shell-tops and told us how to walk, before the King of Rock crowned himself with a black fedora and certainly before he became a music icon as one third of Run DMC, young Darryl McDaniels was reading comic books. He may be a hip-hop legend, but before he ever wrote a rhyme he was drawing superheroes.
It’s fitting then that DMC is now himself a superhero in the pages of Darryl Makes Comics, the indie publisher he launched over a year ago. The comics present a variation of a world we know well—the familiar aesthetic of New York City in the 1980s, chock full of tracksuited b-boys and subway cars splashed to life with wildstyle graffiti. The hero DMC stands as a sort of sentinel of the forgotten, defending the marginalized as much from crooks as from their supposed protectors.
The Devastating Mic Controller summed up the philosophy he brings to making comics on the #BlackComicsMonth: Diversity in Comics panel at last week’s Special Edition: NYC convention. “For me, diversity is two things: Not being afraid to talk about what everybody else is afraid to talk about, and also looking at what everybody else is doing and doing something completely different,” he said. “Like when everyone was rapping over funk, soul and jazz, we said eff that, we’re gonna rap over rock and roll. And by doing that, something great happened to the culture.”
He’s an animated speaker and his enthusiasm for comics is contagious—as he spoke, grins spread through the amassed crowd at his booth. After the panel, DMC took a few minutes between signing autographs and taking photos with fans to chat about his path from comics fan to comics character and what he hopes to achieve with his book.
Paste: So at the panel you mentioned growing up reading comics, what kind of stuff were you into?
DMC: My brother was three years older than me so he started collecting first. He brought home Justice League and a majority of Marvel stuff. I used to take tracing paper and by second grade I didn’t need the tracing paper no more. I started saving my allowance to buy my own, so I had all these Marvel comics and the reason Marvel was good to me was because it was based in New York. DC was cool, but Marvel showed me places in New York that I heard about. The first time I saw the Roosevelt Island tram was in Spider-Man, and then the day that I went to the city and saw it in real life I almost had a heart attack.
Paste: Have you read Hip Hop Family Tree? You’re in it.
DMC: Yes! I haven’t read it. I have my copy and I skimmed through it. Everybody walks up to me and wants me to sign theirs. But I think that’s awesome because it shows how connected hip-hop and comic books are.
Paste: Well the first time you appear in that, you’re reading an X-Men comic. Were you well-known for that?
DMC: My therapist said you proclaim like, Thor, Son of Odin—’Son of Byford, brother of Al’—I thought I was just writing rhymes, but actually comic books became a part of my existence. Go back and listen to my lyrics—“Crash through walls, cut through floors, bust through ceilings and knock down doors!” I used to wear the gloves, Run was just fly with sideburns, but I used to put on a costume to go up there in front of y’all. Especially on “King of Rock,” in ‘85, Run said “I’m DJ Run I can scratch.” I didn’t say, “I’m DMC I can rap,” I said “I’m DMC I can draw.” So, Ed just knew. Some people knew I was a Catholic school kid who read comic books, but I was mostly known for what I was doing on the records not why.
Paste: So now you’re a character in two comics. What’s that like for that Catholic school kid?
DMC: It’s inconceivable. IN-CON-SEE-VA-BULL. It’s crazy because one of the first books written about Run DMC, our first publicist said, and he used these words: It was amazing to see mild-mannered Darryl McDaniels from Queens, N.Y., transform into the mighty King of Rock. He just wrote that from looking at how dope I was onstage. He don’t know about comics but wrote “mild-mannered,” “transformed.” If you look at Run DMC’s history, Run used to do all the talking. People said DMC was always a mystery because the only time I would open my mouth was to start the record. I always tell kids imagination is real. Hollywood is just catching up to where we were as kids; we didn’t need CGI. I been there since the ‘60s, I don’t need that because I already got it up here [points at head]. And that’s why my comic book is working.
Paste: Speaking of which, how did this comic come to be?
DMC: The whole comic book idea came about when I went to meet [VP of A&R at Atlantic Records] Riggs Morales about some music stuff. And he goes “before we get into business, I just want to know, you guys were like my superheroes. What was it like when you were a kid?” I said I was this little kid that went to Catholic school and read comics books. When I said “comic books” he gave me this look and we sat there for like two hours talking about comic books.
We didn’t want to do a hip-hop comic book. We wanted to do a comic book that had hip-hop culture in it. We wanted to create something in the comic culture that in 250 years will stand next to Spider-Man and Superman. Hip-hop has a habit of “Fuck the purpose and let’s just get the money”—like the music in hip-hop, and Hot 97, the station that claims they love hip-hop, y’all don’t love hip-hop because you play bullshit! We wanted to create a hero—well, not even a hero because it’s not just me. We wanted to create a universe that people can say, “Man, I was alive when that DMC comic came out.” This isn’t a hip-hop comic that’s going to end, this is something that the hip-hop culture created. The kid in the ghetto and the kid in Beverly Hills can relate to everything that’s in this universe.
Paste: Were you trying to fill a void in comics?
DMC: I started thinking why do hip-hop comic books never work? You don’t make a hip-hop comic book, you make a comic book first and if hip-hop happens to be in it, so be it. There’s a problem when you define your creativity, because then you put up a wall. If you call it a hip-hop comic book, how am I going to get the people that hate hip-hop to read it?
Paste: So tell us about this universe. Other than the Adidas, what will we recognize?
DMC: The ‘80s was visually stimulating: the graffiti, the clothes that we wore, the style, the breakdancers. It’s not just hip-hop—punk rock, Michael Jackson, Madonna, The Ramones, heavy metal, it all existed in New York in the ‘80s. So the reason we put it in an ‘80s-like universe was because so much good creative stuff came out. When you go to Harlem now, there’s been a Renaissance, but Harlem used to look like the Bronx back in the days, with all the burned-down buildings and vacant lots It looked like a war zone. When you look at this universe, look at the buildings, look at the subways, the graffiti, the garbage, look at the dilapidation—it could be the future. So it’s an ‘80s-like universe, but in it is everything that we’re dealing with now: war, crime, drugs, homophobia. This universe is a reflection of everything that existed past, present and future.
Paste: And your character is representing for the people who the big heroes don’t care about. That seems prescient with all that’s going on in the news lately and the mistrust of the cops.
DMC: You see what’s going on. Nobody trusts the people that were put in charge to protect them. There’s so many good cops that are scared to even pull out their guns and work now. We’re living in a world where people are afraid to really be heroes for everyone. We need to champion causes for everyone, that’s what’s missing right now. In my universe there’s the hero that’s like, “all right, I’ll save the city but you gotta pay me.” So in my universe, all the kids go “that hero ain’t true, DMC’s the hero for all people.”
Paste: Was that current events aspect in your mind when you came up with it?
DMC: When we put this book together we wanted to address a lot of issues. Even though it’s an ‘80s-like universe, we wanted to be current. Remember the Batman cartoon? It looked like it was from the ‘30s, but they had technology? The idea of diversity—the second hero to be introduced is female, and we’re not doing this because they made Thor a woman. It’s just like hip-hop. Somebody said if you listen to this current age of hip-hop, you wouldn’t know we had a black president. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, it wasn’t a black thing, we were just current events. If the politicians and religious leaders shied away from it, the rappers and punk rockers were going to talk about it. Look at this world we live in now: it’s a shame. As great as this period of hip-hop is, as great as this period of entertainment is, the producers and writers and creators are pussies, because they’re not telling it true.