A Chat with Darryl McDaniels of Run-DMC Part 2: On DMC the Comic, Commercialism and Creator Responsibility

DMC #1 Part 2 of this interview with Darryl McDaniels. If you haven’t already you can read Part 1 here; link to Part 3 at the end of this page.
So DMC the comic.
What I knew already was that it’s set in an alternate 1985, the difference being that superheroes and supervillains are real and, in the tradition of Kurt Busiek’s Astro City, seem to be rough analogues of those Marvel / DC characters you know and love. The difference to those universes is that while the villains are actually villainous, more than a few of the ‘good guys’ are pretty shady as well. Enter alternate Darryl McDaniels, teacher and stand-up superhero on the street.
So how did it come about? Well it’s kind of refreshing to hear, genuine comic fan as he was and is, that it really hadn’t been Darryl’s intention.

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“I didn’t want to be that rapper,” Darryl tells me: substitute musician, artist, politician or whatever someone is best known for and, even if at first I can’t quite articulate it, I entirely take his meaning.

Perhaps it’s best understood as some sense of entitlement, that because you’ve achieved in one area somehow you automatically qualify as a noteworthy voice in another. It’s not as if many creators of whatever media originally aren’t possessed of talents or experience entirely suited to another. But, again, where the rapper DMC might step boldly, brimming with confidence in whatever he happens to be doing, it’s characteristic of the more reflective, less assuming Darryl McDaniels, to, at least in the first instance, decide against taking such a step.

DMC - 10.12.14 Rigo Morales By Luigi Novi 1

Riggs Morales © Luigi Novi / Wikimedia Commons

It was Music Exec Riggs Morales who convinced Darryl to enter the comic’s arena: “Everything you’ve done with music you can do with comics: inspire, entertain and educate.”

And so it began.

Yet it’s not as if Darryl has gone about comics in the traditional manner either. Reading between the lines it’s clear he loved the idea of creating something but was more concerned with realising a vision than taking complete ownership of the elements.

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The world and story is Darryl’s but he brought in established pros as creative consultants – Ron Wimberly on volume one and Greg Pak (a personal favourite) on volume two – and writers and artists to realise his vision. It’s a variation and broader version of the ‘Marvel Method’. Stan Lee gave artists a story to tell visually and he’d add the captions; Darryl gives writers a story to script and, while doubtless he maintains oversight, that then goes to the artists. He’s more managing the development of a world and property.

But that’s hardly the end of the story of the story’s creation, one aspect of which is something I’ve noted in numerous independent comic endeavours which, more or less, is a ‘unique selling point’ or investment in at least one unique perfected component in the end product. I mention one example to Darryl as being Ricky-Marcel Pitcher’s Zombies Hate Kung Fu for which part of the Kickstarter funds went to hire Leo Au Yeung – fight choreographer on Ip Man and more – to choreograph the fight sequences for artist David Velasquez to draw. On a not dissimilar creative note Howard Hardiman and Sarah Gordon employed a BSL sign expert to enhance their portrayal of their deaf super-strong protagonist and the challenges she faces in Edwardian society. LSCC - Zombies Hate Kung Fu 3
LE - Deeds not Words

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For his comic Darryl wanted to employ and capture the authentic power of one of the four ‘pillars’ of Hip Hop (the others being DJing / Turntablism, Rapping and B-Boying / Breakdancing): Graffiti. He brought in real graffiti artists, including Mare 139 with whom he’s visited schools to do talks and other work, to fill the blank wall canvases left by the comic artists.

On the subject of the visual dimension, DMC is drawn by different artists in each issue. There’s nothing new about that, except that Darryl is partly storytelling from the perspective of the man on the street telling someone else what they’ve witnessed. The difference of art – and more subtle variations on costume and even capability – represents those different perspectives.

To Darryl it’s also about building a foundation in pop culture and expanding from there. “Hip Hop does this” he elaborates. “Hip Hop isn’t just about the records and didn’t just create rappers: it created Directors. Actors. Writers…”

DMC - Clicks Logo

In and around this we’re talking commercialisation within a music scene, endorsements and even product diversification, and Darryl’s candid about how Hip Hop groups, along with others and people generally, have a tendency to sell out following commercial success. It’s fair to note of course that Run-DMC had bought into Mizell’s beloved Adidas to the point of, on Russell Simmons recommendation, creating the song ‘My Adidas’ which, unsurprisingly, got them a deal with the company. Further Jay and D created, though sadly Jay passed before it launched, Clicks, a shop selling Adidas, though with other brands also, sneakers and street-wear, being a portmanteau of Clothes and Kicks.

But the image came first, the deal essentially being an obvious development, and the shop came about from Jay’s love of street-wear. Darryl’s outspoken about how art if polluted once it’s commercialised and that preventing, or at least limiting, this as far as is possible is the responsibility of both the creators and the audience. He has a sense that old school rappers either have serious money or a seriously powerful voice in the world. So when acts get big – and of course this is not limited to Hip Hop – many move away from who they were, especially in the dance of capitalisation, diversifying from the music itself to product creation. Still:

DMC - Clicks Darryl McDaniels and Eric James

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“Don’t put business first,” is Darryl’s attitude to any creative endeavour, “Put the audience first.”

He sees a wider picture as well, of giving up and coming artists and writers the opportunity to gain experience and show what they’re capable of in his world. Refreshingly he has a thought also for older potential creators who never previously had the chance. Again this clearly comes from reflection of his experience in the music business of Hip Hop, also of younger Hip Hop acts who seem unable to take genuine constructive criticism by those who made it, acts who didn’t have a Russell Simmons or a Rick Rubin onside with the creative vision to propel them on trajectories they can’t imagine for themselves. It’s something that’s seriously on Darryl’s mind and applies to comics as well as Hip Hop and frankly anything else: the potential that can come from partnering the virtues of youth with those of age and experience in a creative endeavour.

So there’s three strands to Darryl’s experience in terms of being publisher of Darryl Makes Comics: as the respectful newbie who has the maturity to get talent in to advise and edit; in a ‘producer’s capacity’ in recognising and employing raw talent; and, in wanting to help deserving aspiring creators of all ages, a mentor.

DMC #2

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But to the comic itself. In form DMC’s somewhere between comic and graphic novel, each issue being about 90 pages (giant size versions are printed in tandem). As Darryl explains his vision was to have 5 to 6 chapters in these volumes to establish a world. From there… well let’s just say Darryl’s an old school Marvel fan who read from the streets to the stars in their comics of the time. He’s talking of establishing a world rather than just a comic or character.

DMC - Interior Page Like a number of modern comic worlds (Astro City, The Authority, Planetary, Wanted) the world’s starting point is an analogy of that of Marvel and DC’s, its significant departure being that many of its heroes are rather less heroic than their original counterparts leaving an opening and wide set of challenges for its protagonist. What we experience in the first volumes is, under the partial guidance of Wimberly and Pak, is the sketching out of this world through the emergence of the superheroic DMC circa 1985.
Alternative Darryl is a school teacher – but what are the powers of DMC? Right now (our world Darryl clarifies) his main ability is his skill in martial arts, though he’s got something a little more ‘super’ happening in the background. I’m allowed to share two things Darryl tells me of the unfolding story. Firstly that alt-Darryl was being picked on as a ten-year old and, when he decided he’d had enough, something happened – something that was witnessed by an elder man who became his Sifu. Secondly his powers are coming supernaturally and spiritually, and are emotionally driven.

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The varied superhuman supporting cast have powers of their own, but the opening vision seems in part to hinge on a villain dealing power-giving drugs to regular people. It’s probably not a huge leap then to suppose one element that will distinguish Darryl’s super-world is the exploration of social concerns, not just with fantastical powers and happenings as decoration or some loose metaphor, but rather as a manifestation of the issue in question, and a way of framing a new understanding of it from an oblique angle – while providing vibrant ass-kicking entertainment of course!

The other thing is that aside from the analogues of known characters being present, there’ll be some playfulness with the tropes for which they’re known. Darryl’s counterpart – whether from some temporary requirement or with ongoing usage – will get to play with their ‘toys’. I can only expand on this by sharing that by the end of volume two DMC needs to be a little more mobile.

On all that, for now, ‘nuff said. But there’s a whole lot more we talked about…

 

Read the final part of A Chat with Darryl McDaniels here: On Self Image, Depression, and the Good Coming from the Bad (and Michael Jackson?!!!)

 

 

(NB. Title information and buy links on Darryl’s books can be found at the end of part 3 of this interview)