This is an old college paper I ran across, I read it and thought, jeez, I stretched in places, haha! I think what makes it important as a whole is the fact that I felt the need to address Hip-Hop in comics, or at least, have someone else think about it. It’s significant to me, because I think I was trying to validate my want to create Hip-Hop themed comics. I love Hip-Hop, I think it should be in your face in all media.—-
Sequential Art History
I Got Next Panel: Hip-Hop In Comics
Hip-Hop started in the Bronx in the 70s. It was popular culturally among blacks and latinos, its popularity increased and blossomed in the mainstream through movies and one of its components, rap. It has moved through many mediums, through books, posters, television, and of course the radio. As time progressed Hip-Hop made it from the streets of the Bronx to the homes of people around the world.
One of its many vehicles through which it enters the world’s dwellings, possibly one that is most overlooked, has been a comic. Comic books throughout the ages have had many genres. There’s been the horror genre, the comedy genre, drama, and even suspense to name a few. As comic books are a popular form of entertainment among both adults and children alike it only makes sense that there would be content to satisfy the varying interests of not only the age groups, but also the culturally inclined. As Hip-Hop is still a fairly new form of cultural expression so is comics, but it makes sense that its integration into comics be something of a new occurrence.
There are many places around the world where the rituals of Hip-Hop are practiced. In Europe there is an underground Hip-Hop culture full of Graffiti artists and even rappers. In Japan there’s J-Rap and the teenagers crave the style of Hip-Hop’s inherent urban culture. Within comics lays the ritualistic practices of comics. Such as the flashy fashion style that is a key component to many of Lesean Thomas’ illustrations and comic books, the random placement of graffiti within Brandon Graham’s “Escalator” and other comics, and the “Madtwinz” comic creation Blokhedz has veins pumping with the culture known as Hip-Hop.
Hip-Hop itself has embraced the comics with open arms. Snoop Dogg himself has had many an illustrated insert and booklet within his albums. The Doggfather’s albums “Doggystyle”, “Last Meal”, and “Paid Tha Cost To Be Da Boss” include these comic gems, showing an illustrated Snoop on top of his game. The rapper Freddie Foxxx a.k.a. Bumpy Knuckles included a fully colored mini comic to accompany one of his albums as well. Many rappers love iconic characters such as the Hulk, as loved by the rapper who has taken the TV series name for the green goliath’s alter ego David Banner. MF Doom has made it quite apparent who his favorite all-time Marvel villain is. And who can forget the Wu-Tang Clan’s very own Ghostface Killah whose affinity for Iron Man goes unrivaled. His other monikers are Iron Man and Pretty Tony after Tony Stark. He even created an album called “The Pretty Tony Album” which includes the 60s version of the Iron Man cartoon theme song.
Hip-Hop has been incorporated into comics through the guest appearances of rappers in well-known comic book titles. Milestone comics made its first and last attempt at introducing rappers into its pages through issue 40 of Static from the 90’s. The issue features the Lost Boyz famous for tracks such as “Lifestyles of the Rich and Shameless.” Virgil and his friends go to a concert and find that Static will have to battle a disgruntled emcee wannabe.
Let’s get into artistic style. Brandon Graham has a unique illustration style. He uses microns to get his line art to full completion, which leaves it with a rich fluidity, fluidity commonly found in graffiti. The lack of line weight variation is also a common element of graffiti tags. An average tag usually has a one weight structure to it that helps the border recede while the brilliance of the colorful tag is allowed to burst forward granting the viewer with a tasty visual that his/her eyes can consume with healthy satisfaction. It’s much like his story-telling ability. His characters are just vehicles through which the story is allowed to move unfettered by flashy line work. What Brandon lacks in line weight variation he makes up for in detail, his characters are interesting but the interest of his work doesn’t lie in his character design, but rather within his background. Almost every building, billboard, and bridge in his book “King City” has a tag on it.
Graffiti is a common element in a lot of his work. The characters of the titles of his work look like work that belongs on the side of a corporate building. He expresses his love of graffiti through his stories like “True Crime” in his comic works collection book Escalator, and even his bubble letters for the titles of his work. If one were to look at his blog it wouldn’t be hard to see his love of Hip-Hop which he shows through how he quotes rappers every chance he can get.
Corey Lewis has a style which some describe as an A.D.D. style. It’s very sporadic in terms of line weight variation, but somehow maintains a Hip-Hop value to it. His work withholds a kinetic energy found common among the street art of the veteran graffiti artist. His characters, colored or not, through his unique style seem to have color which adds a strength and depth to them which is quite powerful.
Lewis worked on an album cover for Del Tha Funkee Homosapien’s “Best Of” album. He displays an understanding of the Hip-Hoppa really well through the style of clothes the character’s in and the attitude it exudes. He does really well to show off his style within his book “Sharknife” in which the characters have a rock and roll influenced design, but the artwork itself has a Hip-Hop spirit. Which isn’t too far removed from the concept of rap beats. The original DJs would spin rock tracks and mix them with R&B tracks to get a steady rhythm going for an emcee to rhyme to. This practice isn’t uncommon nowadays as well.
Khary Randolph is another artist to keep an eye on. His style is no style, as an artist he feels he can change his style to suit whatever the job calls for. This remains constant if the comic involves Hip-Hop. He worked on a project called “Joint Chiefs”, a project featuring quite a few rappers such as, Fat Joe, T.I., and Fabolous to name a few. Khary captures the style of each character by precisely creating original clothes consistent with each individual, which is no small feat. He employs the fitted hats, large earrings, and Timberland boots associated commonly with Hip-Hop clothing, but also has a keen enough eye and understanding of each person to graphically translate who the rapper is and where they come from through his design choices. Much like how an emcee designs a rhyme to help his/her listeners understand who he/she is and where he/she come from. It’s like rhyming through comics in a sense. This may be exaggeration, but the execution of the artwork lends space for one to examine and analyze what it could be comparable to.
Lesean Thomas is an excellent example of what a Hip-Hop artist is capable of. As the current character designer and former art director of the Boondocks series Lesean Thomas built his career from working on comic books with a distinct Hip-Hop style. His characters have a unique style mainly Hip-Hop influenced. “Drama Kings” an up-and-coming project by this amazing artist features characters wearing Adidas jumpsuits with the classic shell-toed sneakers by the same company, a fashion choice commonly found within the culture of urban youth. The drama of his poses and the angles and characters breathe Hip-Hop. One of the reasons that he was hired for the Boondocks project was the fact that Aaron McGruder believed that he had a good understanding of the prolific culture.
In his art book “Nervous Breakdowns” he displays that while working on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) he designed the characters based on inner-city youth. Rafael he believed would have a Brooklyn accent and be a child of Hip-Hop. The attitude that most of his characters maintain are Hip-Hop driven, they have the confidence and toughness of true Hip-Hoppas. On his work “Arkanium” an original mini-series that he penciled and designed that was produced through Dreamwave Productions he developed a character named Sirena. She is an assassin that used swift movement and break dancing techniques as part of her killer attacks. She maintained a B-girl stance before engaging her opponent.
Blokhedz is a complete beast in terms of illustrating the power of Hip-Hop in comics. Blokhedz is a mini-series project that developed into an up-coming cartoon series. The story focuses on the life of Blak, an inner-city teen who’s going through life trying to deal with the dilemma of becoming a conscious rapper or one that’s more on the commercial side. His true voice pushes him to become an aware emcee, but his peers and the promise of an easy life draws him to the side of a commercial career. Within the course of the story he’s magically endowed with the power to influence the minds of people he raps to. The power is so strong that it makes his decision that much harder.
The backgrounds of the neighborhood in which Blak lives in Empire city is full of graffiti tags and stickers placed by taggers. If one were to pay close attention in one of the issues The Notorious B.I.G. makes a cameo reciting one of his famous lines from his “Ready To Die” album. The characters wear the vibrant colors and styles consistent with Hip-Hop culture. The attitude that most of the characters maintain are that of city dwellers that have lived the life that the groaning hustling and bustling city makes one develop, it’s that attitude and confidence that help make a Hip-Hoppa. Like KRS-One (one of the leaders of the Hip-Hop movement) said “What’s the state of Hip-Hop/ don’t confuse it with rap/ it’s the state of your mind/ it’s the way that we act/ it’s the thing that makes you say ‘Yo, I could never be whack!’”
This comic stays true to the culture. The people of the streets speak the slang that is exchanged commonly by Hip-Hoppas. The slang is so thick in the books that the first volume, a collection (essentially) of all the books has a glossary to help the slang impaired. It defines common words to all and words that are scarce to some. Do you know what a “headcrack” is?
Another element that one must not neglect to remember is the rap element. There are rap battles, written work, and freestyles all throughout the book. The creators actually hired people that rap to write the lyrics for the main character and his evil adversary. The rhymes are congruent to the characters and give them not only life, but also a real voice that only the power of rhythmic speech can give. It’s not hard to find the flow in the rhymes. It’s easy and actually a very fun element for the book. The real lyrics give the comic and characters an authenticity that can only be prevalent through the use of well thought out verses.
As it is and was with Hip-Hop when it first started out there were many within the mainstream that overlooked what was going on right in front of them. Some of these creators’ comics and styles are not being picked up on as often as one might encounter an established mainstream character or story. There are those out there who find out about these artists and stories through an amount of research. Brandon Graham had a few comics put in the Meathaus anthologies. His work was then later printed by Alternative comics and then Tokyopop, through which his most current book “King City” is published. Lesean Thomas is working on his creator owned project “Cannon Busters” which he’ll release as a graphic novel. It will showcase more of what his fans love about his style, the in-your-face Hip-Hop elements, clothes, and attitude. This undertaking in comics is an exciting direction. It can open up the medium to accept a new genre: Hip-Hop comics! The popularity of the Hip-Hop genre itself fused with the portability and entertainment element of comics is an excellent marriage.