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‘Darryl Makes Comics’ Makes Heroic Debut with 1980s NYC-Based “DMC”

by  in Comic News Comment
‘Darryl Makes Comics’ Makes Heroic Debut with 1980s NYC-Based “DMC”

While comics has seen its share of “famous fanboys” arrive from movies and TV in recent years, few media personas have been kicking around the convention scene as long as Darryl “DMC” McDaniels.

The legendary hip hop MC has been preaching his love of comics since his days as part of Run DMC, and over the past several years, he’s also been a frequent con guest and has shown up on the fringe of comics culture. Now, the musician is taking his love of the superhero genre out of the fan realm and into publishing with Darryl Makes Comics — a new comics imprint whose first series arrives this October.

Founded by DMC with Editor-in-Chief Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez and music executive/Senior Editor Rigo “Riggs” Morales, Darryl Makes Comics has been teasing its superhero series “DMC” at conventions all summer long. “DMC” the series takes the hat, shades and gold chains of the rapper’s stage persona and morphs them into an original superhero, fighting for the common good in a world inspired by the street culture of 1980s New York City. The full graphic novella #1 — which will appear at New York Comic Con and soon after in comic shops — sports a creative team that includes writer Damion Scott (“Batgirl”), consultant Ron Wimberly (“Prince of Cats”), interior artists like comics stars Felipe Smith (“All-New Ghost Rider”) and Jeff Stokely (“Six-Gun Gorilla”), animation artists like Chase Conely (“Black Dynamite”) and graffiti writers like MARE 139. And the entire package is topped off with a cover by longtime “Spider-Man” artist Sal Buscema.

CBR News spoke with E-i-C Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez and DMC the man about “DMC” the superhero. The pair describe how they wanted to avoid the pitfalls of celebrity and music comic ventures by focusing on a heroic lead in an artistically diverse world first, and how the mysterious battles experienced across the first issue’s anthology format will lead to a future universe of stories.

CBR News: Darryl, you’ve been a comic fan for a long time, and have talked about that at conventions and with other fans, but how long have you had an ambition to make your own comics as well? Were you doing this as a little kid?

DMC: The only way I could dress up as a superhero as a kid was that I’d take my favorite blanket and a safety pin and put it on my shoulders. Then I’d jump around the house like Batman and Superman, and my mother would always say, “Boy, if you don’t stop playing, I’m gonna break your neck! You need to sit down!” [Laughter] But my actual passion for comic books was not only reading and collecting them — the collecting thing came more from my brother as I just loved to read them — but I also wanted to draw them. As a little kid, I had a passion for drawing, which started with tracing paper. I would take it over all these guys who were artists for Marvel and DC. I’d be drawing Spider-Man, Captain America and the Hulk.

If you listen to Run DMC’s record “King of Rock,” it was our second album, and one of the things we were talking about was wanting to be a DJ. There was a verse where he says, “I’m DJ Run, I can scratch!” and I say, “I’m DMC, I can draw!” So even at a time when I was destroying the microphone, my passion was still for drawing. At that time, I was still picking up the pencil. But by the time we got on to “Raising Hell,” I had to put the pencil down and go with the microphone 24/7. So my initial passion came from reading the comic books and then wanting to duplicate the comics by drawing them.

Obviously, a big part of the superhero myth is the secret identity and living a double life, and in some ways the life of an MC is one where you’re projecting a bigger, idealized version of yourself in a similar way. Did you draw on that dynamic while creating this comic?

DMC: You are 100% correct, because people would always say to me, “Hip hop is dope, but when Run DMC came along, you guys were my superheroes.” And I can relate to that because way before Run DMC, my superheroes were Afrika Bambaataa and the Zulu Nation, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, The Treacherous Three, Cold Crush Four MCs — so you’re 250% correct when you say being an MC or a DJ or even a graffiti artist is the same. People are living, breathing superheroes.

When you took that lifestyle to comics, was there something in superheroes that you didn’t see that you wanted to add to the mix?

DMC: The main things that convinced me to do the comic were two things: For over 30 years, I’ve been DMC. I’ve been traveling the globe, and whether it was Asia or Europe or in the United States, people would come up to me and go, “Yo DMC, I’ve got this hip hop comic book,” or, “Yo DMC, I’ve got this hip hop comic book idea.” And for 30 years, they’ve all failed. I wondered why don’t these hip hop comic books do what Superman and Batman and Spider-Man did when those characters were first created?

Then about a year ago, I discovered why. When I sat down with Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez, my Editor-in-Chief, and Riggs Morales, my other partner, I finally realized why they all failed. You don’t make a hip hop comic book. You make a comic book. If I’m Italian, I’m not going to make a superhero universe and go, “This is the ITALIAN superhero universe!” Just because I’m Jamaican and I make a comic, it doesn’t mean it’s a Jamaican comic. I realized that hip hop comics had failed because you destroy yourself when you label it. The important thing is to make a great comic book. I wanted ours to be a real comic book made with the integrity and creative representation of comic book culture.

The second thing I wanted to do was create a comic book or graphic novel that was reflective of the universe we’re in and the lives we live today. I didn’t want to make a white superhero or a black superhero. I didn’t want to use those labels. I wanted to create a character and an entity that was reflective of the New York City that I’ve lived in. When I walk out the door, I see black, white, Puerto Rican, Asian Latino — gay, straight, fat, skinny — I see all of it. I wanted the comic book to reflect both the young and older people who can break down those political walls of separation and the walls of race that people think separate us.

For us, it was doing that, and making a comic book universe inspired by the 1980s. Those were the two main creative things we wanted to do in this publication.

Edgardo, I’m sure on the editorial side you’ve had a large hand in putting together the creative team for the book, which includes a number of very contemporary artists like Felipe Smith alongside a very old school cover by Sal Buscena. What was the primary requirement creatively to be a part of that time?

Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez: The whole creative team came about very organically, honestly. Darryl and I sat down with Riggs [Morales], and we brainstormed a lot on what the universe needed to look like first. We didn’t set out on a [creative] roster. Once we knew we wanted to set DMC as the pivotal hero, we wanted to create a universe around that character so it wouldn’t literally be page after page of him in your face.

One of the things that’s critical when looking at a book is that people are quick to note that a character’s rogues gallery is lacking, or that their supporting characters are lacking. We wanted to know what the characters who would be supporting this guy looked and felt like. What is the rogues gallery? It’s supposed to reflect all the dark sides of the hero, in a way, and in our book, they also represent the dark sides of society. We didn’t want to just throw a character out there.

Oftentimes, comic books haven’t dealt head on with serious issues. Yes, there were times when “Amazing Spider-Man” tackled the drug issue in the ’70s or the “Green Lantern/Green Arrow” series or the “Avengers” in the ’80s tackling domestic violence. But when it comes to race, they’ve always used a metaphor, like mutants.

DMC: Right, right.

Miranda-Rodriguez: Or if they’d talk about AIDS, they’d use a metaphor like the Legacy Virus. But we wanted to talk directly about things with our book. So the roster we needed for the series was one that had to be a group of talented artist who really understood what that was all about. We didn’t just want to hire some people to work.

DMC: It wasn’t just a gig!

Miranda-Rodriguez: No way. We wanted to bring people into this that were as passionate about it as we were. And at that point — we didn’t have a physical thing yet. It was just a conversation. One of the hardest things to pitch to people is an idea, because they can’t see it, but our artists have been able to visualize this. They have vivid imaginations, so when we started talking to them about this world where there’s going to be pounds of spray paint all over the subway trains, and there’s going to be b-boys and b-girls on the corner while there are people learning martial arts in the studios, they can see that. It’s something that’s never been presented before in comics.

I had a conversation with Terry Austin, who had an amazing run on “X-Men” for years, and what was dope about it was that he told me, “You know what’s crazy, Edgardo? I had to hand-draw graffiti in these comic books. And I didn’t know anything about graffiti, so I’d just put a lot of jokes in there and names, but I didn’t know what I was doing.” When we did our book, we wanted to get authentic graffiti writers. We knew the artists of our books would have to know everything from anatomy to perspective to architecture already, but when it comes to graffiti, that’s a whole ‘nother medium. We wanted to bring in the grafitti artists to really show how that was done.

We ended up putting together this roster of talent that was fresh, that had a good grasp of comic book storytelling and could make things that look cool to someone who’s never picked up a comic book in their lives. Chase Conley went straight into animation, and Shawna Mills was the same. Each specific artist has a foot in animation and writing and manga and traditional comic book art. And then we get to have this great cover by an icon like Sal Buscema, which we thought was necessary to create a cover that literally wraps the whole book together.

DMC: He defined my childhood! His art defined who I am.

Miranda-Rodriguez: And as we hand-selected this roster, everybody totally got what it was all about. Like, Jeff Stokely did an amazing job on the “TV PRRRTY” chapter. I pitched it to him as, “It needs to have the vibe of CBGB’s and the Lower East Side in the late ’70s and into the ’80s. It needs this dirty, stinky, funky vibe of a bathroom at CBGB’s.” We sent him and everyone a lot of Style Wars and a lot of documentaries produced by the BBC about New York City nightlife in the ’70s and ’80s.

DMC: We said, “This is your reference material. Get into this era. Get into this style and feel.”

Miranda-Rodriguez: They looked at those documentaries and books about graffiti artists like Martha Cooper or Jamel Shabazz. Those were our reference materials because we wanted to make this our universe. People see the book, and they say, “Oh this takes place in the ’80s.” But does it? Or is it just another reality?

When you look at Bruce Timm’s “Batman: The Animated Series,” that looks like a different era from the 1930s when Batman was first invented, and yet you have the same technology that we have today. Because time can be interpreted, and you don’t have to be locked into an actual set of guidelines and rules. For our world, we’d never seen a world that looked and felt like the 1980s, so we decided that we needed to do that. The roster of talent we put together believed in it and did it.

The other thing we really wanted to make sure of was that every artist that came on had a distinct style of their own. We didn’t want a bunch of guys mimicking each other, or who were clones of one another. They each had their own interpretation of DMC.

DMC: If DMC was really running around and bumped into four different people, they’d have four different descriptions of what he was like. We wanted each artist’s work to relate to each character’s view of DMC. If you saw him, you might say, “He came out of a spaceship and had all these things flying around him!” But then another dude is like, “No! He had a sword and shield!” We thought, if so many people saw something different in DMC, we’d have to have different artwork to represent their opinions on him or their interpretation on him.

Miranda-Rodriguez: We knew we were introducing a new comic character to the page, and we didn’t want one artist defining him. When you look at someone like Batman, who’s been around 75 years, so many artists have interpreted him that there’s never been one view of it. It’s similar to how Mickey Mouse has been done. We wanted DMC to feel like he’d been around for 30 or 40 years at this point. We even have, in the graphic novel, a section that shows our love for comics with some bonus pinups where we recreate a lot of classic covers. We’ve got homage to a classic “Incredible Hulk” Annual or “Fantastic Four” by John Byrne.

DMC: We got the Black Panther and the first appearance of Iron Man in there.

Miranda-Rodriguez: Or “Deathlok” #1! It’s all the covers we grew up on that shaped and influenced our youth and our ideas. This is how comic books influence dDarryl. They empowered him. They gave him the tools to get up onstage and have a persona.

DMC: That’s why I crush every MC in history! I’d come in with that confidence, saying, “What would the Hulk do here? What would Spider-Man or Deathlok do in this situation?” My delivery, my sound and my flow came from a comic book influence. You always had the Amazing Spider-Man or the Incredible Hulk or the Invincible Iron Man. Well, I was the Devastating Mic Controller. That was already present throughout hip hop, because even in groups like the Cold Crush Four MCs, you had Almighty Kay Gee or Easy A.D. Comic books and kung fu and so-called creative pop culture had influence on DJs artistically and visually, whether it be through graffiti or breakdancing. All the elements that were in comics were prevalent in hip hop because that’s where we came from. That’s who we are. We were those little boys and girls reading comic books.

As you said, the story of the comic is all about these various people meeting or fighting or being saved by DMC and their views of him. And within that group of people, you’ve got a very diverse cast. What is the common link that brings them all together and made you want to include them in the cast of the book?

DMC: Because everybody needs a hero. Everybody needs someone to fight for them. You’ve got all these politicians and all these religious figures that claim they’re for the people, but here, all the other superheroes who are supposed to be protecting the public have their own little classes or sects or preferred people that they want to fight for and represent. DMC is the hero for all people — not just for a certain political or religious faction.

Miranda-Rodriguez: And DMC is a hero who doesn’t need the key to the city. He doesn’t need to be on the front page. In fact, he hides his face because he doesn’t need anyone to know who he is. He doesn’t even speak. He’s made to be underground and protecting people like the graffiti writers. They may have people saying, “We need to wipe out all those taggers” but they don’t realize that some of them are just kids. DMC recognizes that there are young people looked at as vermin, but DMC looks at them as students who are a part of his city. You’ll see people here fighting for justice but who are coming at it with prejudices and stigmas. DMC is also fighting against that as well.

I guess what we’re trying to say with this book is, when you say you’re a hero, you’re supposed to fight not only for the people who run banks, you’re there for all people. And if you see films or stories about New York City, they always happen in midtown Manhattan. It’s like the rest of the city doesn’t even exist?

DMC: Where are my people from Staten Island? Where are my people from Brooklyn?!? [Laughter]

Miranda-Rodriguez: So the thread that brings all of these characters together is that no one is fighting for them. If you look at them, they’re coming across this hero who is going to represent them. What we’re trying to do with our book is introduce this hero in a fresh new way while still using a lot of the traditional comic book techniques.

DMC: Of course.

Miranda-Rodriguez: Because it’s still the superhero genre of comics.

The first DMC book is launching in October as a graphic novella of sorts. It’s longer than a regular monthly comic. How do you see this going forward as a series, and do you have any plans for more titles in the line?

Miranda-Rodriguez: What we’re trying to do with this first book is gauge what the fans who go to the comic shop every Wednesday will think of it. We don’t want to flood the market with books if there’s not a positive response. This first one is kind of a teaser. It will set the market for the overall response, and we’re obviously very optimistic that there will be a hugely positive response and a call for more books.

What we’d like to do next is another full-length story, possibly longer than the first graphic novel. If we can engage the audience first, then we can give them the back story on DMC. Where did he get those knuckles from?

DMC: And eventually, who is he, really?

Miranda-Rodriguez: Right. Everyone always gives away the whole origin in the first issue, but for us, we thought it was more important to show what this world was like.

DMC: Right. Let’s introduce that universe first. One of the things I wanted to make clear was that DMC wasn’t the first superhero in this universe. And by issue #50, DMC might not even be your favorite dude. By then, you might be in love with the new female superhero or the new villain we’ve introduced. Where we’re going to go with this is that we’re going to introduce you to a universe that’s alive. Is it the past? Is it the future? Well, more importantly, DMC is just the beginning character to introduce you to a world where no man has gone before.

We used the ’80s because there was not a time that was more visual and more diverse than then. You had the Beastie Boys. You had the Ramones. You had Michael Jackson. You had Run DMC. You had the best graffiti writers and the best break dancers. It’s what you see right now — if you look at modern hip hop, all these guys are wearing the big gold chains because they’re looking for validation. They want to be down with the real of the real. The old school time period wasn’t a time period; it was a consciousness. It was a way to present yourself artistically. This universe is going to go where it’s going to go, but DMC is your introduction into it all.

One thing I really wanted to say is that when Edgardo and Riggs came to me about this company, I didn’t want it to be a self-centered, egotistical venture. This Darryl Makes Comics venture isn’t about me. It’s a celebration and a tribute to comic books.

Miranda-Rodriguez: That’s why we have something like that Sal Buscema cover. We have artists working on this that are in their 20s and in their 70s.

DMC: And fill in the blanks in the middle.

Miranda-Rodriguez: The reason that is, is because we’re all fans of this genre. Our generation grew up on comics — we’re very, very aware of the history that comes before us, and we’re not on this tip where we’re saying we know every single thing we’re doing. We’re going on this trip together, as students of this medium, and we’re going to go to all the comic cons, from Kansas City to Boston to Chicago to San Diego to New York. We’re hitting up all these comic cons, humbly and sitting behind our table and trying to get the issue #0 out there that we’ve done to promote the book. That’s how we’re doing it, because we’re independent. This doesn’t have a huge corporation backing it. This is being backed by Darryl — financially and also creatively. He’s the living, breathing hero. This isn’t cosplay. This is real play, right here. And one of the exciting things is that, when we go to these events, people get to meet the actual icon. When you go to a comic con, you get to meet the artist and the writer, but never the hero himself!

One thing we’ve learned as we’ve been on this journey is that we’re bringing a lot of different audiences together. Obviously, when we set up, we’re going to cater to the traditional comic book collecting crowd, but we’re also reaching out to folks who haven’t picked up a comic in decades. We wanted to make a book relatable to all generations. We didn’t want to make a kiddie version of DMC, but we didn’t want to go ultra-dark, either. We grew up reading books written by Stan Lee and Chris Claremont that dealt with serious issues without talking down to us or talking over our heads. Everyone can read this and enjoy this.

“DMC” #1 ships this October from Darryl Makes Comics.

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