It seems that since its arrival into mainstream culture in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, hip-hop music has embraced the world of comics. From graffiti artists borrowing styles and imagery from the pages of their favorite funny characters to MCs and performers using the names of their favorite heroes, comics have always had an influence on hip-hop culture.
At the Hip-Hop and Comics: Cultures Combining panel at WonderCon, Comics Alliance’s Patrick A. Reed chatted with a group of artists and innovators to talk about the ties of the two fields of pop culture.
“Five years ago when we did this panel, people were like, ‘Well, I guess you can talk about Wu-Tang, but what else are you going to talk about? But now it seems everyone automatically has their own reference points when they walk into a room, which is a very nice place to be. For me, comics and hip-hop are both combining elements like words and pictures or bass and rhymes or graffiti and dance,” said Reed.
“I grew up with hip-hop and comics, and was a fan of the comics scene, but got roped into the graffiti aspect and hip-hop, I rolled with a couple crews,” explained Erin Yoshi. “A lot of my stuff is rooted in cultural diversity and a lot of stuff around the ecosystem. I’ve also been doing a lot of art on social justice and community based art.”
Also on hand for the panel was Ted Lange IV, the creator of the comic Warp Zone.
“I saw Ted and his book Warp Zone and said, ‘Who are you people and I need you on this panel?,” joked Reed
“Warp Zone is a surreal afro-futurist fantasy that follows the exploits of Jack Elsewhere and the Elsewhere crew as they through the cosmos without the use of starships. They only use warp zones. It’s a hip-hop influenced books. Hip-hop by way of Mario Bros.,” said Lange.
Rounding out the panel was Kenny Keil, the author of Rhyme Travelers, a sci-fi comic book heavily influenced by rap and jazz music, and James Reitano, the mastermind behind the graphic novel 1985, the semi-autobiographical tale of a graffiti artist in the ‘80s looking to fit it.
Together, the group looked at the history of hip-hop and comics, including a deep dig into the first hip-hop comic, Rapping Max Robot, which was published in 1986 as a mini comic by Eric Orr and Keith Haring.
Yes. That Keith Haring.
“Comics reflected hip-hop even before hip-hop had a name,” said Reed. “Comics became part of the iconography of early hip-hop. Even through to today. Take the Green Lantern symbol, flip it sideways, and you have the symbol for the World Famous Beat Junkies.”
“Music deals with time, space and rhythm, but so does comics. It’s the whole idea of spacing out stories.
You take big notes, small notes, and lead the reader to the big discovery. This is something that happens in music,” said Keil. “You have beat, rhythm, chords, all these things. So for me, I enjoy, bringing all these elements together and trying to create a story that is unique unto itself. There is something about it tastes familiar when you read it, but you can’t quite but your finger on it.”