The pop superstars The Black Eyed Peas came to Comic-Con International in San Diego, but not to talk about music -- they're getting into the comics business. Three members of the band appeared with moderator and Marvel Comics editor Axel Alonso to discuss their new project, a superhero comic book Masters of the Sun. will.i.am wrote the book with some collaboration from Taboo and apl.de.ap, and will.i.am talked about how the story turned from a film project to a comic book.
"It began about five and a half years ago when I wrote the screenplay...and I wanted to turn it into something that was collectible. So we went out and did research and shopped around for amazing books, and the place to go shop for amazing books are like Japanese collectible stores. And their attention to detail is immaculate, from the printing to the paper stock, so we went out and searched for the type of book that we wanted to create. And around that time, I met Ben [Jackendoff, producer], and so we took that screenplay and turned that into a graphic novel, and Ben connected us with [artist] Damian Scott, now four years ago," will.i.am said.
He went on to discuss the strange and varied roots in inner-city comic book culture the book drew upon. "And it took us four years to fine-tune the story, and get the myth and the theology together, and create this world from inner-city gang-bangin', that took place in the 1980s, with the rise of hip-hop, and the spread of the culture of the art form. And at the same time, gangs selling drugs, and violence plagued our city. And so this book, based in 1980, we fantasized around that and doing conspiracy theories, and after we had shape-shifting aliens, and CIA agents that are bringing in cocaine and crack into our neighborhoods, systematically dropping off weapons right when three-strikes law was, now we have prisons filled with Latins and blacks."
will.i.am said that it was only during protagonist Zulu X's arc as a hero that he learns the grater scope of the threats he faces. "So Zulu X, and the Blast Masters are fighting against this ancient scourge, to take their inner city back. And they realize it's a deeper mission that he has, they've been putting the black community, the Latin community under his thumb since slavery, the killing of Martin Luther King and Malcom X, and the Black Panther Party, and now [the villain] aims to do that and continue with the plot of the black plague in hip-hop."
The music icon framed the story as a parable for the hip-hop times. "If you look around in hip-hop today, everyone praises not only the drug dealer, but now the drug user. One time a crack-head was something to fear, now we're wrapping about crack, so...we're telling the story about our community to get it back to thriving, creating things and inventing and aiming our youth to become better contributors to our society."
Alonso asked will.i.am what his influences were for the book, and the artist basically said that his foray into comics really started with X-Men Origins: Wolverine, in which he was a co-star. "Obviously real superheroes like Martin Luther King and Malcom X, the Black Panther Party, you know folks that are out there fighting for their community. And as well as fantasy stories, like the X-Men. Being briefly in [X-Men Origins:] Wolverine, you know I got killed, but it was an amazing experience...so we went in to make sure the black superhero doesn't die too soon," he said, laughing. He went on to say it was after his appearance in Wolverine that he was inspired to start the original Masters of the Sun screenplay.
The Black Eyed Peas' Masters of the Sun is on sale now from Marvel Comics.