NEW YORK — What do hip-hop stars and superheroes have in common? They often have tough experiences in their youth and have aliases and alter egos for their public personas. It’s no wonder that many hip-hop stars love superhero comic books.
Rappers Kid Cudi, whose given name is Scott Mescudi, and Darryl McDaniels, also known as DMC from Run-DMC, are among the growing list of hip-hop stars who have developed their own superhero comic book series. Kid Cudi announced his first comic book series (called “Moon Man”) at the 2023 edition of New York Comic Con, which took place October 12 to October 15 at the Jacob K. Javits Center in New York City.
Although many hip-hop stars have been featured in comic books over the years, some — such as Common, RZA, and Chuck D — have taken it a step further by having business ownership of comic books and/or having creative control of the comic books that have their work and their personas. On Oct. 14, Kid Cudi talked up “Moon Man” at a panel packed with cheering fans, who saw preview art during the session. “Moon Man” is based on Kid Cudi’s concepts. The first issue is due out on Jan. 31, 2024. The “Moon Man” series is published by the independent company Image Comics, which lets its creators keep the copyrights to their work.
“Moon Man” is about an astronaut/former fighter pilot named Ramon Townsend, who develops superpowers after an outer space accident where he saved people and became a hero. Kid Cudi appeared on the panel with his “Moon Man” business partners: Black Market Narrative founder Kyle Higgins and Mad Solar president Karina Manashil. Higgins, a co-writer of the “Moon Man” series, mentioned that “Moon Man” character Ramon Townsend (who is illustrated to look like Kid Cudi) was originally going to have Scott as his first name.
Kid Cudi said during the panel discussion: “I started getting into comics when I was 8- or 9-years-old. I was into the Spider-Mans, the Supermans, the Batmans. But the one comic that really blew my mind as a kid was Scud: The Disposable Assassin. For a while, when I was a kid, I wanted to be a cartoonist. … I always thought it would be cool to one day tell a story in comic book form.”
In 2013, he began to incorporate the Moon Man character into his music, including “The Flight of the Moon Man” on his “Indicud” album released that year. In 2022, Kid Cudi and Manashil (who worked as a producer with Kid Cudi on his Netflix animated sci-fi series “Entergalactic”) began discussions to make a comic book series for the Moon Man character. Kid Cudi added that Higgins was instrumental in the brainstorming process to come up with original ideas.
Kid Cudi said, “As someone who’s read comics and know what’s out there, it was really important for me, if I was going to approach this superhero thing, to really go in and do it right, I needed to make sure that my character was unique and different from anything you had ever seen before.”
As for how Ramon Townsend is similar to Kid Cudi, he added: “There’s a lot of style and flavor in the character of Ramon that is my own. He’s this young, hotshot pilot, so I had to make him fit and make him feel more like me. The fashion is definitely there. He’s from Cleveland. That was important to me. That’s my hometown.”
Kid Cudi also mentioned that he and the other “Moon Man” creators are talking about making exclusive Kid Cudi digital music as part of the digital editions of the “Moon Man” comics to listen to a “score as you read … to make it a more exciting experience for you.”
On October 13, McDaniels and his Darryl Makes Comics company hosted a panel called “50 Years of Hip-Hop and Comics.” The panel featured McDaniels and other comic book creators with ties to hip-hop/urban culture, such as N. Steven Harris (“Aztek: The Ultimate Man”), Micheline Hess (“Malice in Ovenland”), Sanford Greene (“Across the Spider-Verse”), Axel Alonso (former Marvel Comics editor-in-chief), and Bill Sienkiewicz (“The New Mutants,” “Legion”).
McDaniels said that as a child, he liked the superhero characters Spider-Man, The Hulk, and Captain America, but he was also attracted to comic books because they celebrated geek culture before it was really mainstream. Seeing characters in comic books who weren’t afraid to be nerdy and smart made him feel proud of getting good grades in school, he said.
And when he discovered hip-hop, and Run-DMC became one of the first superstar acts of the genre, “everything I was doing on every record was me pretending to be the most powerful entity in the hip-hop universe,” McDaniels said. “The hip-hop attitude and my existence as a comic book person allowed me to be as dynamic as I was.”
McDaniels said he initially thought he would take his comic book ideas to Marvel Comics or DC Comics (which both retain the copyrights of their work-for-hire creators), but his Darryl Makes Comics partner Riggs Morales convinced him to remain an independent artist. Darryl Makes Comics has a superhero character named DMC, who is based on McDaniels.
“The artists and musicians are the storytellers of society,” McDaniels said. “Art succeeds where politics and religion fail. They’re scared of us because we represent the truth. What is the first thing a dictator does before he brings in the army? ‘Go get the musicians, go get the artists … Get all the books and burn the books.’ Then, they come and whip your ass.”
He added, “Our expression isn’t something that we’re trying to tell people to do. Our expression is representation of an existence that is already there that the powers that be do not want to be released. We gotta f**k Hollywood. We got comic books!”
McDaniels concluded, “The whole idea behind Darryl Makes Comics is to create a universe of superheroes, villains, monsters, and everyday people that you can all see yourselves in … These rappers and break dancers and DJs and graffiti artists are our real-life superheroes.”
Two days after the panel, Black News & Views caught up with McDaniels at New York Comic Con’s Artist Alley, where he was signing merchandise and greeting fans. Unlike many celebrities at these comic book conventions, McDaniels doesn’t charge people money for autographs or photos with him.
McDaniels candidly told Black News & Views what he’s learned about the comic book business over the years: “It’s hard for people of color. It’s starting to come around because hip-hop culture is becoming more popular. We’re still in that position where we create but we don’t control it.”
He added, “The good thing about it is that you show up and meet directly with the community, with the audience. I’m doing this [comic book business] with my own money. They say if you invest in yourself, that’s when it’s worth it.”
McDaniels also promoted his new cookie business, Darryl Makes Cookies, at New York Comic Con. Next up for McDaniels: His 2024 collaboration album “America” with Chuck D, Ice-T, Mick Mars, Joan Jett, and Sammy Hagar, among other artists. “It’s going to be the most universal fun album that will make the world smile,” McDaniels said.
Because of the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) strike that began in July, there were fewer panel discussions this year at New York Comic Con. Most of the sessions had little or no star power, but celebrities still showed up for one of New York Comic Con’s most popular attractions: celebrity meet-and-greets with fans, who are charged money to get autographs and photos with the stars. “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” co-star Chukwudi Iwuji was one of the few Black celebrity actors in attendance.
Black horror entertainment had a lot less representation at New York Comic Con in 2023, compared to New York Comic Con in 2022. Among the Black horror standouts this year: Tananarive Due was there to promote her novel “The Reformatory,” which goes on sale on Oct. 31. And there was a panel for the Apple TV+ horror series “The Changeling,” featuring behind-the-scenes creatives for the show, such as director Michael Francis Williams.