Exploding onto the American music scene in 1987 with their debut album, "Yo, Bum Rush The Show," Public Enemy quickly became the most important hip-hop act to ever take the stage. The music and lyrics were as hard hitting and biting as the political messages they contained, and the group quickly rose to the top of the rap food chain where they've maintained a presence ever since. With lyrics that name-dropped Marvel Comics characters like Thor and Namor, it was quickly apparent that someone in the group was also a comic book fan. The fan was the founder and front man for the group, Chuck D, a former graphic design student turned rapper/political activist. Now, twenty years since first declaring that he swings a hammer like the Mighty Thor, Chuck, Flava and the rest of Public Enemy are set to be immortalized in comic book form with the first licensed Public Enemy comic dropping this summer.
The series is written by Chuck with I. James Bomb, from the S1W's, and Professor Griff also providing story concepts and editorial support. Art on the series will be handled by by Adam Wallenta. A special #0 preview book that includes a short story as well as character bios will ship to comic shops this June from American Mule Entertainment. The book is 22 pages and retails for $2.99. Issue #1 of the series follows in July, a 40-page giant sized edition for $3.99. From that point forward the team will settle in to a bi-monthly publishing schedule, shipping 22 page full-color books every two months for $2.99.
With the series soon to launch, CBR News spoke with Chuck D and Adam Wallenta about "Public Enemy" the comic book and their plans for the series.
Chuck has had a life-long association with comics, having started reading those fantastic four-color tales in the mid '60s as both a DC and Marvel fan, but it was the animated versions of those characters that really got him hooked. "Those early Saturday morning cartoons got me," Chuck told CBR News. "CBS' Superman, Batman, Justice League. Then Space Ghost, then ABC's Spider-Man and Fantastic Four led me straight into it."
While Public Enemy is a very politically active and often times serious group, Chuck said he wasn't concerned that this project would in any way diminish the group's message. "You can show all emotions in comics," said Chuck.
"First and foremost, we come from the entertainment field," continued Chuck. "We're not in government politics, although transcending music itself and making an impact on the world [is something we're interested in]. This is yet another portal for getting the good word out."
The band itself has had a fascinating history, making headlines many times over the past 20 years, whether it be Chuck D hosting a nationwide radio talk show, Flavor Flav's run-ins with the law or his hit television show, or the break-up/reunion controversy with Professor Griff. Will the comic draw upon Public Enemy's real life history? "Maybe," said Chuck. "We'll see, but I think these will be more original stories, working off some of those roots we may have."
Wallenta further explained plans for the story side of things in "Public Enemy" the comic. "The book features Chuck D, Flavor Flav, Professor Griff, the S1W's and DJ Lord. The series is a combination of reality and fantasy," Wallenta told CBR News. "The reality is Public Enemy is a world renowned and respected politically charged hip hop group with a positive message promoting peace, unity and self respect. They travel the world performing, speaking out against oppression and racism and volunteering their services to those in need. The fictional aspect is they are secretly members of a worldwide organization called the Underground Railroad that helps oppressed people and those in need.
"Their rogues are made up of all kinds of bad guys, from corrupt politicians and governments, crooked police, drug dealers, slave traders, and child molesters to high tech mercenaries and genetically engineered super soldiers," continued Wallenta. "Public Enemy fights the good fight for the common man and woman and as members of the Underground Railroad they are connected to a huge cast of freedom fighters that will make up their supporting cast."
Wallenta explained the basic concept behind translating Public Enemy into comic form is taking a look at good vs. evil and right vs. wrong. "Public Enemy have always tried to use their music to promote a positive message and uplift people," explained Walenta. "In this series, we are just providing an element of fantasy to make it even that more interesting.
"[Public Enemy] have been in the trenches for twenty years fighting the good fight," continued Walenta. "Their real life adventures alone are more interesting than most fictional comic books. They have had ups and downs, successes and struggles and people relate to them on many levels as well as aspire to be like them. If you speak to the thousands of fans worldwide, you will hear tales of how Public Enemy's music and message helped change lives. It's really incredible. In many ways they are real life superheroes.
"What we want to accomplish with this series is bring back the hero with high morals and ethics that does the right thing no matter the cost. The heroes that make sacrifices and put their necks on the line for people that may not be aware or even care or appreciate them. The underground hero that is in the trenches, that works in secret, feared by the corporate establishment because they are unwavering and true and will fight for the rights of the oppressed to the very end. We want to bring back that rebellious feel the X-Men once had when they were outlaw heroes fighting for a cause no one else believed in. I miss those days before they became just another government-sanctioned group where everyone knows their secrets."
Wallenta said that "Public Enemy" the comic will be a very character driven book. "It will have a lot of action and adventure, but the focus is the characters," said Wallenta. "The real life members are such diverse and interesting people that we want to translate that into the comic and combine it with some real explosive action."
Some of our readers may not be aware that before vaulting onto the scene as Public Enemy's front man, Chuck studied graphic design at Adelphi University in Long Island, New York. While he has artistic roots himself, he won't be providing any art for the series. "Although I created Public Enemy in a comic type mode, I have full confidence in Illus, AKA Adam Wallenta (artist/writer), and James Bomb (Story Direction) for an engaging read," said Chuck.
Ultimately, the man responsible for getting this project off the ground and out the door is Wallenta. In addition to being an illustrator, he's also a musician and song writer who's been recording music for several years under the name Illus. "Chuck D was starting up an independent record label called SlamJamz Records and I was invited to be a part of the label," explained Walenta. "I was then invited along with another Slamjamz group, the Impossebulls, to open up for Public Enemy on their 2002 Revolverlution tour along with Dilated Peoples and Blackalicious.
"Years earlier I was working for Marvel Comics and they were putting together a Public Enemy comic book," continued Walenta. "I remember thinking it was missing something and that I would do it differently. The book never saw the light of day, but I always kept it in the back of my mind that I wanted to do a Public Enemy comic book. So when I finally got to meet Chuck I took advantage of the opportunity."
Chuck knew Wallenta was an illustrator who had previously worked for Marvel Comics and owned and operated his own publishing company, the previously mentioned American Mule Entertainment. After sharing his ideas with Chuck and Professor Griff for a Public Enemy comic book, they gave Wallenta the thumbs up and began working together to flush out those initial ideas. "It took some time to get it all together because of scheduling conflicts, but Chuck and Griff were really championing the idea and wanted me to do it," said Wallenta. "They believed that my background in comics and illustration combined with my love and respect for both hip hop culture and the Public Enemy legacy would be a perfect fit and they knew that if we all worked together, we could bring Public Enemy to life on the comic page."
Chuck D explained that the Marvel Comics "Public Enemy" comic never got off the ground due to editorial changes at the company, but ultimately he's happy how it's all worked out. "This way with Adam Wallenta, it is a focused 'labor of love' 100% dedicated to our direction with little corporate intervention," explained Chuck.
Wallenta said he's been captivated by the work of Public Enemy from day one and it was the following rap by Chuck D from Public Enemy's first album, "Yo, Bum Rush The Show," that convinced him the band's image would work well in comic form.
Turn the winter into summer - then from hot to cold
xpand my power on the hour - make you all behold
From the slammer swing a hammer like the Mighty Thor
God of Thunder, you'll go under - then you'll all applaud
And fathom that distance, that the mad must reap
Meet Namor sea lord - Prince of the deep
Here for you to fear at any cost
Tellin you to get busy or you better get lost
Livin' lives civilized from the lessons I taught
Cities buried underground just because I went off
My friends, enemies - better be my friend
Is the question people guessin' is this the end?
End of the world - are you guessin' yes?
Just say and don't delay it - get it off your chest
Houses of crack - I've seen too much
I go ready - aim - fire - then I'll blow 'em up
"I can remember I was actually reading Thor when I heard that," said Wallenta. "Their lyrics were raw and powerful and contained action, adventure, political intrigue and a positive message. Much like my favorite comic book characters, the members of Public Enemy were outcasts in society trying to fight the good fight. Their music has a positive message that people from all backgrounds can relate to. They speak out against oppression, poverty, racism and fight corrupt governments, corporations and drug pushers. Even their names, Chuck D, Flavor Flav, Professor Griff and Terminator X sounded like names from a comic book. It just always seemed like a natural fit. When I read that Chuck was a big comic fan, it all made sense to me.
"Public Enemy is a group of characters with individual personalities. They all have similar beliefs as a group, but individually they are all different and bring a unique dynamic to the whole," continued Wallenta. "They are very much like the X-Men in that they bicker and fight, play jokes on each other and show the full range of emotions. But when it's time to show and prove, whether it is in real life on the stage, coming together to help their communities and volunteer or if it is the fictional aspect of the book with all of their explosive adventures and death defying struggles, Public Enemy always pulls it together for each other like a family to be the best they can be. Remember, they have been together for over 20 years now. Not many groups survive that long and when the readers get to know them, they will understand why."
In addition to the comic book, there's a "Public Enemy Comic Book Soundtrack" on the way featuring completely original material separate from other Public Enemy releases this year. The CD will feature brand new material from the group as well as music from well-known guest artist that have been inspired by Public Enemy. "It was originally going to ship with the first issue, although we didn't solicit it with the book just incase. And it's a good thing because this has been a huge undertaking and we want to give the fans the highest quality product imaginable," explained Wallenta. "I am currently working on the production of the soundtrack with Professor Griff and it's taking some time so we are considering our options, but it's coming out great.
"One of my main concerns with including it with the first issue was we would probably have to polybag it to prevent theft and I really hate it when comics are in bags because then the fans can't flip through the book, plus the books always seem to get damaged," continued Wallenta. "That just wouldn't do. There are several options, one being to include it with the collected trade and the other to provide a coupon so fans can send it in and get their free CD."
While Public Enemy's worldwide recognition alone may be enough to sell the comic, American Mule has a number of different outlets available to help get the word out the "Public Enemy" comic. For one, group member Flavor Flav has the #1 television show on the VH1 network in "Flavor of Love," with an all new season ready to air this July. Flav will be supporting the book 100% according to Walenta, so you can expect to see some plugs during the show. "Public Enemy will be embarking on their 55th world tour this year and will be promoting the book heavily at all of their shows," added Wallenta. "While on the road, local comic shops that support the book will also be getting visits from the group and, if they are lucky, maybe even some free concert tickets. While promoting the tour, you can also expect Public Enemy to conduct radio and television interviews where we also hope to push the book.
"All in all it is still very much a grassroots movement," continued Wallenta. "We are a small company and the cost of print advertising is enormous, so we rely heavily on the Internet and word of mouth. I believe that with each issue, the book gets better and better and the fans will react as the word gets out there. We are also hoping Best Buy, Tower Records, Fat Beats and several other music stores will carry the books."
Public Enemy has connections to the comics world, even before the release of this comic. Noted comic artist Mark Texeira handled the jacket art for Public Enemy's "Muse Sick-N-Hour Mess Age." How did Texeira come to work on that cover? "It was a contact made by Cey Adams and Steve Carr from the Drawing Board, the Def Jam art department. He was interested and we made it happen," explained Chuck.
Look for "Public Enemy" #0 in comic shops this June from American Mule Entertainment.
Special thanks to Stephen Gerding at Kung Fu Rodeo for an assist with this interview.