Superhero MC: Darryl "D.M.C." McDaniels Returns to the Comics That Helped Mutate a Catholic Schoolkid Into a Hip-Hop Legend | Pop Culture | Indy Week

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Superhero MC: Darryl "D.M.C." McDaniels Returns to the Comics That Helped Mutate a Catholic Schoolkid Into a Hip-Hop Legend

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A conversation with Darryl McDaniels is as fast-paced and layered as a good comic book, and that makes sense. Most people know McDaniels as the tracksuit-wearing, Adidas-sporting "D.M.C." half of rap legends Run-D.M.C. But comic book fans know him differently, as a teacher turned superhero in critically acclaimed graphic novels and as the founder of Darryl Makes Comics, the company behind those stories.

This weekend, McDaniels comes to Raleigh for NC Comicon: Oak City at the Raleigh Convention Center, which features two days of comics dealers, panels, cosplay contests, an eighties cartoon-themed gala, and much more, with guests including industry legends such as Larry Hama and Neal Adams. McDaniels will participate in a panel on diversity in the industry, "Black Heroes Matter," at 1:45 Saturday afternoon with Afua Richardson, Tabitha Stark, and Eddie Newsome. He'll discuss his career at another panel at 1:30 p.m. Sunday.

McDaniels has been an avid comics fan since childhood, and his enthusiasm surges through the phone. Despite his busy schedule—he has an upcoming trip to work on a music video with Canadian metal band Slaves on Dope and Public Enemy's Chuck D—McDaniels clearly relishes talking comics.

"Every time you go to a comic con you discover something new. That's where the fun of it is," he says. "When I first started going, I would see these old issues I had as a kid and be like, 'Oh man, that's dope!' It's always a great experience to relive whatever you've been into since you were first infected by it. It's nostalgic but it's really educational for me."

Darryl "D.M.C." McDaniels - PHOTO COURTESY OF D.M.C.
  • Photo Courtesy of D.M.C.
  • Darryl "D.M.C." McDaniels

McDaniels is a true comics geek, not a dabbling dilettante. His conversation darts from the comics of his youth to Marvel's controversial hip-hop variant covers project and then to characters on today's pages, noting where diversity is lacking and where it's present.

"If you grew up in the sixties and seventies, you knew about Black Panther and Falcon," he says. "But growing up, I loved Peter Parker. I went to Catholic school my whole life, and the Catholic school kids were always picked on because we had to wear uniforms every day. That's why I related to Peter Parker. I liked that he was smart. When he got bit by the spider, that's when he became a badass. I was this little Catholic school kid who liked rhyming, and then Run-D.M.C. happened."

Teaming with Joseph Simmons (Run) and Jason Mizell (Jam Master Jay) may have been the radioactive-spider moment that propelled D.M.C. to rap superhero status, but he was still a shy teen. So he drew upon what he knew best: comics.

"It all came from me pretending to be a DJ or MC. I thought, 'I'm going to pretend to be the most powerful force in the universe.' I would hear a beat and say to myself, 'What would Hulk do on this?' or 'What would Spider-Man do?' I was really getting into Thor when 'King of Rock' came along," he says. "Thor was the God of Thunder, the son of Odin. I thought about what I would tell Thor if I was fighting him." His cadence changes, and his volume increases: "'I'm the King of Rock/ there is none higher,' and I'd hold the mic up like it was Thor's hammer."

He goes on to describe how the lines "Now we crash through walls/cut through floors/bust through ceilings/and knock down doors" is pure comic book imagery. Then he segues into "Son of Byford": "I was born son of Byford, brother of Al/Bad as my mama and Run's my pal/It's McDaniels, not McDonald's/These rhymes are Darryl's, those burgers are Ronald's."

"It all came from that comic book imagination, that make-believe," he says. "I always tell kids, don't be afraid of imagination and make-believe. Just look at those words, 'make-believe.' You've got to make people believe it and it will come true, like it all came true for me. Reading, drawing, and writing every day gave me an imagination, an edge. That's why Run wanted me in the group."

For McDaniels, turning that imagination from comics to hip-hop and back again has been seamless.

Darryl "D.M.C." McDaniels - PHOTO COURTESY OF D.M.C.
  • Photo Courtesy of D.M.C.
  • Darryl "D.M.C." McDaniels

"People were getting mad about the Marvel hip-hop covers," he says of a project that saluted iconic album art but earned criticism from people who said it smacked of cultural appropriation. "What the hell you mad at? It's not a thing where you had to force diversity down our throats. Hip-hop and comics have always had a relationship. Look at Wu-Tang Clan."

Still, some attempts at diversity, whether well-intentioned or blatant efforts at quelling backlash over the lack of it, can come across awkwardly.

"You don't have to make Thor black," McDaniels says. "Miles Morales as Spider-Man was great. But why can't you just make a new hero who's black or Latin? Why not introduce a new superhero that's Muslim who all the other heroes respect? Show people that everyone is cool."

According to McDaniels, diversity already exists among the creators of comic books. "It's the companies, the creative heads, who need to be more open to giving new, diverse characters an opportunity," he says. "This is true of all the arts. A lot of times the things that are needed aren't given an opportunity."

As such, he's justifiably proud of the D.M.C. graphic novel, where a variety of comics pros script and illustrate his stories. "We didn't want to make just another black hero. We wanted to make another cool-ass hero," he says. D.M.C.'s "not a rapping superhero. He never meets Run in this world. He's a graduate from St. John's and a teacher. You look at his students and there are blacks, Asians, Latin students, whites. Our pop-culture world should be reflective of our audience walking the floor of the comic con."

Darryl "D.M.C." McDaniels - PHOTO COURTESY OF D.M.C.
  • Photo Courtesy of D.M.C.
  • Darryl "D.M.C." McDaniels

In the graphic novel's first installment, set in 1985 in New York City, D.M.C. is a junior high school English teacher by day and the protector of a disheartened citizenry at night. As the series progresses, McDaniels weaves in characters like LAK6, a thirteen-year-old Puerto Rican graffiti artist. The third issue comes out in April.

The creative process typically begins when McDaniels and his partner in the company, Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez, sit down with Riggs Morales, a senior editor, to talk out the story. "We talk it all the way through. Here are the players, here is where we want it to happen," McDaniels says. Then they bring in the writers and go over it with them, taking their input.

Darryl Makes Comics has attracted some serious talent. Ron Wimberly (creator of the amazing Prince of Cats) was part of the team working on the debut issue. Amy Chu (Poison Ivy, Red Sonja) was part of the second-issue squad.

Since he drew as a kid, we wonder if McDaniels might ever try his hand at illustrating a story. He responds with a laugh, and says, "I've got to start brushing up on my skills. Maybe someday."

Also in the maybe-someday category: a film or Netflix-style series based on D.M.C.

"From the first issue we were getting approached," he says. "I'm so humbled, but it's scary too. We want to be known for making dope comic books first. I want the executives of the studios to become a fan of my comic book, not just of the character. Besides, we can't just throw it out there with Marvel and DC. When I come with it, I've got to come next-level with it. My vision is, a hundred years from now, when they talk about Marvel, DC, Fred Flintstone, Bugs Bunny, I want all the D.M.C. characters to be iconic like that."


WANT MORE HIP-HOP COMICS AFTER YOU READ D.M.C.?

Hip-hop Family Tree Ed Piskor's Eisner Award-winning multivolume series began in 2013. Piskor, who worked with such underground comics figures as Harvey Pekar, delivers an engrossing history of hip-hop. "What he did is so brilliant," Darryl "D.M.C." McDaniels says. "He is doing what people do in film but through the medium of comic books. It's phenomenal."

Sentences: The Life of M.F. Grimm A raw work detailing the life of rapper Percy Carey (aka MF Grimm) drawn by Ron Wimberly, who worked on the first issue of D.M.C. This 2007 release is worth seeking out.

Twelve Reasons to Die A six-issue companion series that accompanied Ghostface Killah's 2013 album of the same name. The bloody story captures the music's pulp feel perfectly.

The Nine Rings of Wu-Tang This 1999 comic from Avalon Studios features the entire clan—RZA, Raekwon, Masta Killa, Osiris (ODB), and the rest—in a tale of mystical martial artists battling ancient evil.

Darryl "D.M.C." McDaniels - PHOTO COURTESY OF D.M.C.
  • Photo Courtesy of D.M.C.
  • Darryl "D.M.C." McDaniels

Eminem/The Punisher This 2009 team-up from Marvel has Detroit's Eminem working with Frank Castle and avoiding a hit man hired by the Parents Music Council. Really. In terms of serious quality, this pales compared with the others on this list, but it's bizarrely goofy enough to merit a mention.


DIVERSITY MATTERS AT NC COMICON: OAK CITY

Among the cornucopia of exhibits, vendors, cosplay contests, and other events at NC Comicon: Oak City are almost four dozen panels on topics such as "The History of IDW" and "Girls in Gaming."

Other notable panels include "Black Heroes Matter" and "Down with the King," both featuring Darryl "D.M.C." McDaniels; "B Movie Magic" with Ron Fazio from the Toxic Avenger films; "The Past, Present and Future of Female Superheroes;" "Diverse Comics for Kids;" "Science in Games;" and "Love Is Love."

Matthew Conner, a panel coordinator for NC Comicon, will be on the "Love Is Love" panel. He says that over the past few years, whenever there was a panel that specifically addressed LGBTQ representations in comics, it always met with an enthusiastic response. Unfortunately, some years the topic was bundled in a general diversity discussion, which made it hard to get too complex.

But, Conner says, "last year at the Durham con we had multiple breakout topics about gender. One about queer issues was packed twenty minutes before it started. We could see there was an audience for it, and with everything going on politically, such as HB 2, it feels like the LGBTQ community is eager to talk about this."

The panel will be moderated by Cap Blackard of the Nerdy Show Network. Its approach will be broad but Conner says the conversation will likely include some of the panel's favorite queer characters, thoughts about straight creators writing queer characters, and the need for queer creators to have greater opportunities.

Conner will moderate four other panels, including "The Art of Afua Richardson," a Q and A with the artist ("She always steals the show on any panel she's on so we decided she needed her own," Conner says) and a Q and A with Jeremy Whitley, who's been making waves writing the new The Unstoppable Wasp series and using it to spotlight women in science. —Curt Fields

This article appeared in print with the headline "Superhero MC."

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