To a little kid struggling to find their place in the world, few things unlock the imagination more than a good comic book. Dazzling pictures and tales of heroism crossed with morality lessons put an arm around shoulders, as if to say, “You are not alone.” Sometimes, those kids grow up. Other times, they become Darryl McDaniels, one of the founders of the legendary hip-hop group Run-D.M.C.
“I always noticed that there was a big power in geekdom,” McDaniels says to me over the phone, reminiscing about his nerdy adolescence. “Even in school, when I was a little kid, I was collecting comic books and all I did was draw. I would go to school, collect comics, and draw.” On the schoolyard, McDaniels found protection from school bullies, who depended on the future emcee to do their homework for them. “I think geeks and nerds are noticing that we run everything, really. Without us, there’s no iPhones, no music, no drum machines. We’re realizing the same scientific minds like Tony Stark, and Bruce Wayne, the Watcher, Galactus, we are them for real. There was always a power with being a geek. I wasn’t ashamed to express my art.”
After revolutionizing music, McDaniels has set his sights toward the geek realm with the second volume of his acclaimed original comic book series DMC, releasing on December 2 through his imprint Darryl Makes Comics. A few months after the volume’s early debut at the 2015 New York Comic-Con, Darryl spoke to Inverse about the new book, the mission of his imprint, and the social justice comic books have been teaching for decades.
What are your expectations now than they were a year ago, when Darryl Makes Comics first launched?
I would think the expectation now is to make every upcoming issue better than the issue before it. We’re at a point now when I speak to my editors, Riggs Morales and Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez, we’re at Empire Strikes Back. The third one, like Return of the Jedi has to be the hit out the ballpark which sets us up for eternity.
A lot of people thought the first issue was some corny hip-hop offshoot. “DMC doing a comic book. It’ll be forgotten about in 15 years.” We’re trying to do what Marvel and DC has been doing forever. With hip-hop, [rappers] put out a clothing company, make money, then it falls to the wayside. The only other things that rappers consistently sell are liquor, beer, and rolling papers. I’m trying to do with my generation what we’re trying for this generation. Somebody can say, “My grandfather was alive when issue one of Superman dropped,” or, “My grandmother was there when Walt Disney first introduced Mickey Mouse.” We’re in this for the long run.
Issue two sets us up, and gives us that potential. Issue one could’ve just been, “Remember when DMC had that comic book out?” But issue three [could] solidify us next to Marvel, DC, and Valiant. That’s the expectation. People love the artwork, people love how we incorporate well-known artists who are out now doing [work for] Marvel and DC. They love the way we incorporate younger, lesser-known female, diverse artists, and even older dudes. There’s dudes 40 to 70 years old, who never got a chance to draw for Marvel and DC. They’re going to get that chance with me.
Has it been an uphill battle? How difficult has it been to prove you’re in this for real?
The funny thing is, it hasn’t been a battle being accepted into the market. Because I’m DMC! The battle itself [has been] the walls of doubt and criticism getting knocked right down as soon as they look at the product. People open that book and go, “Oh! This is real deal stuff.”
Right away the perception was just because I’m DMC, whether it sucked or not, they were going to buy it, take a picture with me, and then hate it after it fails. The wall is knocked right down when they open the first few pages. When they read the liner notes and say, “Whoa! Look who he’s working with.” The uphill battle is, “Can we do this consistently?”
You grew up loving comic books. Have you always dreamed of writing them?
At first I didn’t want to because I didn’t want to be perceived as the rapper who was successful trying to do something else. The whole thing jumped off when I went to meet Riggs Morales at Atlantic Records for a music meeting. Riggs said, “Yo, D. Usually I don’t fan out, but you’re DMC. You’re like my superhero.” He asked me a simple question. “What was it like when you was a little kid?” I was like, “I was this Catholic school kid who was a good student and read comic books.” When I said “comic book,” he started glowing. We sat there for two hours and talked about comic books.
He said, “Did you ever think about doing a comic book?” For 30 years I’ve been in this business, I would always run into that person, “Yo, DMC. Check out my hip-hop comic book.” Prior to my meeting with Riggs, I was thinking, “Why do hip-hop comic books flop?” The answer is you don’t make a hip-hop comic book. You’ve got to make a comic book. Hip-hop has a bad habit of labeling the product just so they can be accepted. It could be crummy. It’s just like the hip-hop music, nowadays. It’s so crummy, but because it’s hip-hop everybody thinks it’s so good when it really sucks.
Riggs said, “Don’t do it as DMC. Do it as little Darryl. The kid who loved comic books before this hip-hop stuff touched his life.”
And that changed the philosophy?
Yeah. A week later, he said “You’ve got to meet Edgardo.” And Edgardo said: “This project is going to be done with integrity, and as a salute and tribute to comic book culture.” I think that’s the thing that blows people away.
Marvel and DC popularized the comic book universes. Valiant just started up again with their own. Will Darryl Makes Comics have one too?
DMC isn’t the only superhero. I don’t want to have 50 issues with my boring ass. DMC was just the first superhero introduced. We just introduced a second superhero, LAK6. Young, Latina female superhero. There’s going to be other super heroes and villains. You’re probably not even going to like me no more. I was just the introduction.
So you’re like the Iron Man from the Cinematic Universe, ushering everyone in.
What else can we expect in the new installment?
You get into more universal issues that DMC and the people in this world are dealing with from a national and community level. At the same time, because we had Amy Chu writing for us, she said issue two has to get more into who DMC is. In the first issue you’re just introduced. “Yo, this dude is dope. He wears Adidas, he wears a tracksuit, he’s badass.” In issue two, you get into more DMC as a teacher. In the book, I’m a teacher. You’re introduced to more of the antagonistic entities. You could probably read the book and see, “This guy is going to have something to do later down the line.”
Issue two was more constructed to introduce the new superhero, LAK6, so you’re not just bored with me running around. But you get into more of DMC when he’s not a superhero. He’s worried about, “Man, I’m fighting this battle, but I can’t go to sleep tonight, because I’ve got to go home and grade the tests.”
So, we’ll get to know more about the Clark Kent side of DMC than we see his “Superman” side?
We’re going to feed you that over the next couple of issues before we even do an origin. One thing that Edgardo and Riggs said, “Let’s not do issue one as the origin issue. Let’s just bring him into this world. Here you go, boom.”
I don’t know if you heard this, but some criticized Marvel for bringing issues up in the newest Captain America. Why do you think people still believe comic books are still just cartoons?
This is probably why: How can we let a corny-ass comic book have discussions or dialogue on topics that we live with in the real world? Like you said, comic books have done it all the time. I mean the X-Men are about how humans are discriminating against the damn mutants. The perception is the mainstream world didn’t even want to give the corny comic book a look.
I’ve always done it with my music too without being overly preachy. Me and Run never said, “You’re wrong for taking drugs,” or, “you’re wrong for being in a gang.” We lived it by example. We can take DMC and these characters to appeal to people, which is what comic books did to me. There was that issue when the Green Lantern and Green Arrow took a roadtrip to know what’s going on in the hood.
That’s one of my favorite stories.
You know, Donald Trump and these guys need to really sit down and read some comic books. They would probably come up with a better plan to make people’s lives better. Edgardo told me he’s from the Bronx, and when they would do little comic book things at the YMCA, the library, there would be white, black, Latino, and Asian kids. From the get-go that whole world of comic books brings people together. If we’re not going to be man and woman enough to have a calm discussion and get past our emotions and prejudices, we could use comic books to talk about all of the things that we’re afraid to talk about. That’s what comic books, like you said, have always been doing.
Riggs was like, “Everything you do with your music, all the issues, everything from politics to education, we can put in this comic book. Drug abuse, homophobia. We can use it in this universe to really have an impact in this universe that we are living in now.”
Many comic books become adaptations for TV and movies. Do you see that happening to DMC?
That’s possible, but right now we strictly want to focus all our energy on making comic books. People say, “Video games, movies, whatever,” but right now we want to make some of the dopest comic books ever.
Last question: What are you reading now? What’s on your pull list?
Right now, because of the success of The Walking Dead on TV, I’m reading what they gave out at my last couple of comic book shows, The Walking Dead Compendium #1. I just went out and brought the new issue one of Invincible Iron Man.
I just picked that up, too!
I just bought issue one of The Uncanny Avengers.
Awesome! I haven’t picked that up, yet.
You know what? It’s really good.
DMC #2 hits comic store shelves on December 2nd.