With Finn Jones recently revealing that RZA will direct an episode of the Marvel/Netflix series "Iron Fist," we thought it was a good time to take a look at the longstanding relationship between Hip-Hop culture and comic books. From superhero stage names to comic book style album covers, Hip-Hop has been influenced by comics since the genre's impetus. We challenge you to find an emcee who hasn’t name-dropped at least one superhero (or supervillain) in their rhymes.
RELATED: 15 Songs Based On Superheroes
Not content to sit on the sidelines, many Hip-Hop personalities have jumped into the comic scene with varying levels of success, critical and otherwise. From collaborations with respected comic book creators to rare promotional items to a crowdfunded miniseries, this list has all the best examples of Hip-Hop comic books.
15 EMINEM/THE PUNISHER #1
Marvel tested the waters of musician-based comics in the ‘90s with their subsidiary Triple R Comics and a few years later with Marvel Music. In terms of Hip-Hop, Triple R gave us the hard-to-find Boo-Yaa Tribe comic “Comin’ At Yaa” in 1990, while Marvel Music delivered the Onyx comic “Fight” in 1995. Around the same time, Kid ’N Play’s Hollywood success landed them a cartoon and a short-lived companion comic on Marvel proper.
However, none of these acts received the massive honor Marshall Mathers got in “Eminem/The Punisher” #1 (2009), a comic which saw the rapper thrust into the Marvel Universe and facing-off against an actual Marvel hero. Not only did "8 Mile’s" mouthpiece get to co-headline a comic with Frank Castle, he gun-butted him in the face and then later saved his life. Sure, the plot that involves the Parents Music Council hiring Barracuda to kill Em leaves a lot to desired, but the art and novelty alone land it on our list.
14 RAPPIN' MAX ROBOT
Eric Orr is a graffiti pioneer from the birthplace of Hip-Hop, the South Bronx. He started his artistic exploits in 1978, and by 1984, was collaborating with pop art icon Keith Haring. He is also behind the logos for a who’s-who list of old school Hip-Hop acts including Jazzy Jay, Busy Bee and Masters of Ceremony. So, it should come as no surprise that this same artist is responsible for the first ever Hip-Hop comic book.
Max Robot was the symbol Orr used rather than a tag to leave his mark on the streets of New York. However, in 1986 the rapping android became the star of Orr’s DIY comic. He only ever put out four issues but their cultural significance cannot be overstated. In fact, his works have been added to the archives of Cornell and Columbia University. It is because of that pop culture relevance and its genuine stance in history that this entry gets a spot on our list.
While this is a list of Hip-Hop comics, we had to include Ziggy Marley’s collaboration with artist Jim Mahfood (“40 Oz”) and writer Joe Casey (“Adventures of Superman”). Ziggy is less out-of-place here than you may think, though. Reggae and Hip-Hop are kissing cousins, and if you go back to Hip-Hop’s beginning, you will find it was a Jamaican immigrant who went by DJ Kool Herc who started it all.
While Ziggy is the third child (and first son) of reggae titan Bob Marley, he is an accomplished musician in his own right. He has released more than a dozen albums since his debut in 1985, including gold and platinum certified LPs, and multiple Grammy winners. He has also been a leading voice in the legalization movement in the U.S., which brings us to his 2011 graphic novel, “Marijuanaman.” This oversized 48-page hardcover was a joint project between Image Comics and the Marley family company, Tuff Gong Worldwide. It gives the account of a humanoid alien who came to Earth to secure the means to save his own world. When he arrived, he soon realized he had a connection to plants, especially marijuana, which gave him super powers.
12 FELT: TRUE TALES OF UNDERGROUND HIP-HOP
Doing a comic book as a promotional item is nothing new. In 1994, Jive Records had promo comics made for their new acts Casual (Hieroglyphics), Extra Prolific (Hiero), Dream Warriors and Crustified Dibbs (later known as RA the Rugged Man). Felt is the group name that underground phenoms Slug (Rhymesayers) and Murs (Living Legends) record under. Their three albums together all have a common theme -- Hollywood actresses they’re crushing on. There is their debut “Felt: A Tribute to Christina Ricci” (2002), the follow up “Felt: Vol. 2: A Tribute to Lisa Bonet” (2005) and “Felt 3: A Tribute to Rosie Perez” (2009).
To further illustrate the stories told on their Lisa Bonet tribute, a full-length black and white comic book titled “Felt: True Tales of Underground Hip-Hop” was produced. What made it more than just a promotional tool was the participation of an artist heavily associated with music and musician comics, Jim “Food One” Mahfood (“Everybody Loves Tank Girl”). Mahfood was 100% in charge of the project’s creative direction and what ended up on the page.
11 YUMIKO: CURSE OF THE MERCH GIRL
It seems that after having a comic book made that illustrated his rhymes in “Felt: True Tales of Underground Hip-Hop,” Murs was bitten by the comic bug. Seeing as how he hadn’t been overly involved with the Felt comic, he evidently wanted to be more hands-on with his own funny pages. So, in February of 2012, the L.A. emcee started a Kickstarter campaign for a multimedia project that was comprised of an album and a graphic novel called “Yumiko: Curse of the Merch Girl.” The crowd-funding was successful, with $32,099 pledged; the 128-page hardcover book and 10-song album came out only a few short months later.
The story was written by Josh Blaylock (“Micronauts”) with art by Jose Garcia, and it was picked up by Devil’s Due Publishing upon release. The plot follows Yumi, a 19 year-old girl who is dating an up-and-coming rapper and living the dream. When it all goes wrong, she has to interact with (and even take advice from) supernatural creatures.
10 METHOD MAN
As will be apparent within the next few entries, the Wu-Tang Clan have been more involved with the comic industry than any other crew in Hip-Hop. Even before they threw out their first idea for a comic, they made it clear through their rhymes and aliases that they were pretty serious fans of the art form. Whether solo or as a group, they have put out various graphic novels and comics.
In 2008 Meth got together with popular artist Sanford Greene (“Power Man & Iron Fist”) and writer David Atchison (“Occult Task Force”) to produce his self-titled graphic novel for Grand Central Publishing. The story of Peerless Poe, a private dick with a background in combating the supernatural, was not highly original or groundbreaking, but the highly kinetic black and white interior art alone is worth the cover price. Almost exactly a year later, Grand Central were back with their second release of a planned Wu-Tang series. This time they partnered with Ghostface Killah for a graphic novel titled “Cell Block Z” about a boxer who is framed for murder, experimented on in jail and becomes “a towering engine of destruction.”
9 THE NINE RINGS OF WU-TANG
The Wu-Tang Clan’s first foray into the comic biz was in 1999 with “The Nine Rings of Wu-Tang.” The series was produced by Image imprint Avalon Studios (“Aria,” “Hellcop”) and it had the kind of clean manga look that was all the rage in the late ‘90s/early ‘00s. Aaron Bullock and Brian Haberlin (“Witchblade”) wrote the title, while Clayton Henry (“X-Men: Rise of Apocalypse”) did the Wu justice with his action-packed art.
The comic is not dissimilar to the kind of kung-fu flicks the Wu based their image on. It details the story of nine martial artists with mystical powers holding the darkness at bay. This tale features the whole Clan in main roles, but only Masta Killa, Raekwon, The Genius and RZA go by their regular stage names. The others go by shortened versions (Ghost, Dek) or their more obscure aliases (ODB as Osirus, U-God as Golden Arms). Method Man goes by his rarely used MZA moniker and his character saves the day in the first arc. Image released a trade paperback of the title at the end of 2000.
Czarface is a concept group consisting of Inspectah Deck (Wu-Tang Clan) and Boston’s underground champs 7L & Esoteric. The trio is represented by an armored titan named, you guessed it, Czarface. Their initial self-titled offering in 2013 had a comic book style cover by L’Amour Supreme (Mishka NYC) that was an awesome tribute to Jack “King” Kirby. Supreme also handled the cover art for the acclaimed follow-up LP “Every Hero Needs A Villain” in 2015. However, last year’s “A Fistful of Peril” had an illustrated cover by indie darling Benjamin Marra (“Terror Assaulter O.M.W.O.T.”).
With song titles like “Marvel Team-Up,” “Steranko,” “Nightcrawler” and “Escape From Czarkham Asylum,” it should be apparent these three are well-versed in DC and Marvel lore. It would have been a missed opportunity if they had not given Czarface some panels to fire his missiles off, and for their second album, they produced a companion comic titled “Czarface: Death & Abduction.” The comic continued the Kirby-esque flavor, but this time with Gilberto Aguirre Mata (El Ultimo Codice) executing the art.
7 TWELVE REASONS TO DIE
RZA started a new label called Soul Temple to put out the soundtrack for his kung-fu film “The Man With the Iron Fists” in 2012. The following year, the imprint dropped solo albums by Ghostface Killah and U-God. Ghost’s album, “Twelve Reasons To Die,” was fully produced by soulful newcomer Adrian Younge and had an intriguing pulpy, slasher movie theme.
Blackmask Studios was charged with putting together a 6-issue companion miniseries worthy of this amazing album and they did not fail. Younge provided a plot based on the album, while Blackmask enlisted top notch talent like Tim Seeley (“Nightwing”), Paulo Rivera (“Daredevil”), Francesco Francavilla (“The Black Beetle”) and Ben Templesmith (“30 Days of Night”) for the covers and interiors. Fun fact: An alternate version of “Twelve Reasons To Die” with all-different beats by Apollo Brown (Ugly Heroes) -- titled “Twelve Reasons To Die: The Brown Tape” -- was released on cassette and included with a deluxe package of the album.
6 BLADE: DAY WALKER VS. VAMPIRE HUNTER
In 2004, RZA and composer extraordinaire, Ramin Djawadi (“Game of Thrones,” “Westworld”), were brought in for the “Blade: Trinity” score and soundtrack. They collaborated on the score, while RZA helped hand-pick the other artists that appeared alongside them on the soundtrack. The Wu leader of course included the crew and there was songs featuring Ol' Dirty Bastard, Ghostface Killah and Raekwon.
RZA had already started to accumulate some scoring credits and his involvement definitely added some buzz to the film. So, Marvel and New Line took his participation to the next level and filmed his studio sessions, as well as recruiting manga grandmaster Takashi Okazaki (“Afro Samurai”) to do a mini comic. A bonus DVD with the footage and the manga were both included with a deluxe version of the soundtrack. The comic documented Blade encountering a vampire-hunting RZA and was part of the CD booklet. RZA is depicted with a domino mask that recalls his Bobby Digital persona.
5 NUFONIA MUST FALL
Canadian turntablist Eric San, aka Kid Koala, has written and drawn two graphic novels to date, “Nufonia Must Fall” and “Space Cadet.” Both are worthy additions on this list but we’re giving the spot to “Nufonia,” since it was his comics debut. The Montreal-native released the book in 2003 with hometown publisher ECW Press and UK record label Ninja Tune. The blurb on the back summarizes the plot like so: “She’s a lonely office girl. He’s an out-of-work robot struggling to find his voice.” A soundtrack is packaged with the book, of which each track was created for a specific page; a sort of follow-along playlist, really, before that was a thing.
The art in this graphic novel can be best characterized as “stylized doodling,” and it was already familiar to fans of Koala's music, as he had also drawn the covers of his albums prior to the book. At 300+ pages, this was a labor of love that tends to be forgotten when Hip-Hop comics are brought up.
4 THE BOONDOCKS
This long-running comic strip-turned-animated series may not have been conceived by Hip-Hop personalities like most of the entries on this list, but regardless of its origin story, it has deep ties to the Hip-Hop world and culture. Aaron McGruder is the writer/artist behind this popular franchise, which follows the lives of the Freeman family. The strip started as as a web comic in 1996, but it was quickly snapped up by Hip-Hop bible, The Source Magazine. Only a couple of years after that, it was picked up for newspaper syndication by the leading distributor of comic strips, Universal Press Syndicate.
In 2005, Adult Swim green-lit the "The Boondocks" animated series. It marked the beginning of the end of the strip, as McGruder started focusing his attention on the show. In 2006, he announced a short hiatus from the strip, which eventually became permanent. There are five collected editions of the comic, including a treasury titled “A Right To Be Hostile.” It’s worth noting that the TV series, which ran for four seasons, featured various Hip-Hop artists in recurring roles. Snoop Dogg shows up as Macktastic, Mos Def as his polar opposite Gangstalicious, and Busta Rhymes as Flonominal, just to name a few.
3 SENTENCES: THE LIFE OF MF GRIMM
When Percy Carey, aka MF Grimm, first stepped onto the comics scene in 2007, he delivered an autobiographic work that was gritty and engaging. His grim (sorry) narrative didn’t pull any punches and the striking black and white art by Ronald Wimberly (“Lucifer”) exponentially heightened the drama. It was exactly the kind of book fans expected from Vertigo at the time and a credit to the imprint today. “Sentences” was a high-water mark for Hip-Hop comics and was even acknowledged with two Eisner nods.
After this promising start in comics, MF released his fifth studio album, “The Hunt for the Gingerbread Man” (2008), which had a boldly illustrated cover by Australian graffiti artist, Peter Frickman. At the time, MF stated that a companion comic and animated series were in development, but that was the last anyone ever heard about it. Then, in 2010, he dropped the “You Only Live Twice: The Audio Graphic Novel” album, which once again had awesome cover art. This time, he had commissioned Jim Mahfood (“Spectacular Spider-Man”) to do not only the cover, but also a CD booklet that doubled as a mini comic.
2 HIP-HOP FAMILY TREE
Writer and illustrator Ed Piskor was a favorite of the underground comic scene until the Eisner award-winning “Hip-Hop Family Tree Vol. 1” put him in the spotlight. He was known for his work with comix legend Harvey Pekar and the fictional hacking adventures of Kevin Phenicle in “Wizzywig” before Fantagraphics collected this series. It had started as a web comic on a popular site, but like "The Boondocks," it didn't take long before it was picked up for print. This is not just a comic, though, it is a compendium of Hip-Hop knowledge on the level of important works like “Freddy Fresh presents The Rap Records” and “Ego Trip’s Book of Rap Lists.”
How popular has this series been? Since the release of “Hip-Hop Family Tree Vol. 1: 1970s-1981” in 2013, Fantagraphics has released a new oversized softcover every year, including “Hip-Hop Family Tree Vol. 2: 1981-1983” (2014), “Hip-Hop Family Tree Vol. 3: 1983-1984” (2015) and “Hip-Hop Family Tree Vol. 4: 1984-1985” (2016). In 2015, the Northwest publisher even started releasing the title in single issues.
Darryl McDaniels, aka DMC (of Run-DMC fame), is a life-long comic book fan. Having grown up on a steady diet of Marvel superheroes, his rhymes are packed with comic book imagery. So, when his friends Riggs Morales and Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez propositioned him with the idea of doing a comic, they didn’t have to twist his arm. The three came up with a concept where DMC decided to become a superhero rather than a superstar rapper in the ‘80s. They also started their own publishing company called Darryl Makes Comics to put out the series.
DMC didn’t want a comic baring his name to be pigeonholed as just a “rap comic,” so they hired the same pros Marvel and DC regularly employ. From the first graphic novella, “DMC” #1 (2014), they set a quality standard that most indies cannot even wish to achieve. For that initial release the creator credits include Sal Bucsema (“Spider-Man”), Felipe Smith (“Captain Marvel”) and Ron Wimberly (“Prince of Cats”)! After their success with the “DMC” series, this team was invited by Marvel to write a backup story with Groot and The Thing in “Guardians of Infinity” #3 (2016).
Which Hip-Hop comics are your favorites? Let us know in the comments!