Talking nerdy with hip-hop legend DMC
“If you’re a man who loves the Powerpuff Girls, dress like ‘em and walk down the block.”
So said Darryl McDaniels, alias DMC, in a phone conversation about his Guest of Honor appearance at Bull City Comicon in Durham on Nov. 10-12. Along with performing, he’ll be promoting his graphic novel anthology series DMC from his publishing imprint Darryl Makes Comics. Conceived by McDaniels, who co-plotted it with Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez, Riggs Morales and scripted by Amy Chu, the comic is set in Queens in an alternate 1985. There, a young teacher named Darryl McDaniels gains superpowers, dons a tracksuit and Adidas to protect his neighborhood.
Back to that hypothetical Powerpuff Girls fans.
“I guarantee if you do that,” McDaniels said, “Fifteen people in your neighborhood will tell you they like them too. You can’t be ashamed of who you are.” He said comic books taught him that. “They gave me confidence that let me be not just a rapper, but the King of Rock.”
Like many hip-hop artists, he grew up a Marvel fan. “Mad respect for DC, particularly Wonder Woman, but Spider-Man was a nerd from Queens like me,” he said, adding that he also loved Captain America and that puny scientist turned green rage monster who gave him courage at the microphone.
Just as Bruce Banner became the Hulk, bespectacled, Catholic schoolboy Darryl McDaniels morphed into a mighty microphone master. “I was just pretending then, but now people call me Microphone Master for real.”
Like many 1970s schoolkids, McDaniels had his comics confiscated, in his case by nuns. The Sisters couldn’t see the books’ educational value, but like the costume under Peter Parker’s clothes, it was there. “In history class, I learned about World War II, but Cap took me to the battlefield,” he said. “In science, I learned the solar system, but Silver Surfer zoomed me ‘round the rings of Saturn. Albert Einstein said imagination is more important than knowledge, but really, it’s what leads to knowledge. Don’t let anybody feel you bad about pretend and make-believe.”
The last comic DMC collected prior to learning to DJ was Deathlok the Demolisher, whose original incarnation ended in Marvel Spotlight in 1977 when McDaniels was 13. “I had his origin issue, final issue, all that. I felt for him, the way he’d watch his family who thought him dead and didn’t know he’d been resurrected as part Frankenstein, part computer.” DMC said his older brother, Alford, sold all of his comics to buy both of them turntables. But not Alford’s comics, as DMC learned decades later when Alford brought them to New York Comicon to be signed. “Older brothers are evil,” McDaniels remarked.
After that, he said it felt like it was time to put down his drawing pencil and pick up his rhyme-writing pen. “But 31 years later, my future editor-in-chief walked me into New York Comic Con and I felt like Deathlok realizing who he was,” he said. “As if my wiped memory banks were restored.”
That future editor-in-chief at Darryl Makes Comics was Riggs Morales, vice president of A&R at Atlantic Records. “Riggs worked with Eminem and was his number-one music guy,” McDaniels said. Like Eminem, Morales was a comics fan. “Riggs said, I don’t mean to go all fan on you, but you was like my superhero growing up, the way you looked and the way you sounded,” DMC recalled. They ended up talking for three hours about comic books, and then Morales asked McDaniels if he ever thought about doing one.
At first, McDaniels said no. “I didn’t want to be another rapper who thinks he can do everything, and because I’m a nerd myself, I know how critical and picky nerds can be,” he said. Morales told him he was crazy. “‘It’s not like that,’ he said to me. ‘This is your background, your first love, and you can do with them what you did at the mic, inspire and empower, educate and entertain.’” DMC thought about it and agreed to go with Morales to New York Comic Con, “That’s was when I saw the light.”
McDaniels said the MC and DJ days had been cool, but it was never the same kind of passion. “Comics were my existence, and now I’m in one,” he said. “What you behold and believe in, you eventually become.”
For more info on DMC’s appearance at Bull City Comicon visit the website.
Ian McDowell is the author of two published novels, numerous anthologized short stories, and a whole lot of nonfiction and journalism, some of which he’s proud of and none of which he’s ashamed of.