Darryl McDaniels has lived his life like a comic book superhero.
Consider this: The world knows him as DMC, one of the most influential MCs in hip-hop history and co-founder of the iconic hip-hop group Run-DMC.
Yet behind the glasses, the chain and the hat was a mild-mannered straight-A Catholic school kid whose first love was comic books. Putting on the DMC outfit emboldened McDaniels, giving a naturally shy nerd the confidence to rock the mic.
“I was just pretending my whole hip-hop career,” McDaniels, 53, says, speaking over the phone from his New Jersey home. “I was acting out the same way I used to put my favorite blanket around my neck and run through the house pretending to be Batman and Superman until my mother said, ‘Batman and Superman ain’t jumping up on the furniture on this house.’ ”
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And now things have come full circle. Since McDaniels’ first comic book came out in 2014, DMC also has stood for Darryl Makes Comics.
This weekend, he will be in Durham as a guest at NC Comicon: Bull City. It’s his second NC Comicon appearancethis year. In March, he appeared at the Oak City Con, where he signed comics, met fans and appeared on the Black Heroes Matter panel with accomplished comic artist Afua Richardson. This time around, in Durham, he’ll briefly perform, taking the mic for one song to kick off Saturday evening’s gala.
Yet DMC is back in the state as a comic book creator, not a rapper, and he’ll spend most of his time signing comics and talking to fans at his booth. This local con treated him well last time, and he’s glad to come back.
“(NC Comicon: Oak City) was such a good con,” McDaniels says. “It’s in my list of top-five cons, just the way that it’s run, the people, the events, the panels.” Between NC Comicon and Charlotte’s HeroesCon, which McDaniels has also experienced, he’s impressed by the state’s comic book conventions. It’s a smaller market, but the energy’s the same as at the New York Comic Con, he says.
Inside the conventions, McDaniels finds an environment he loves. On the convention floor, he sees people from all over and of all creeds, colors, religions and demographics, united by their love of pop culture, comics and movies.
“That’s the beauty of it,” McDaniels says. “The cons give us the opportunity to come together and realize that no matter where we’re from, who we are, what’s our background, we all basically are connected.”
Serious about comics
DMC is a superhero in his comics, sporting an Adidas tracksuit that zips all the way up to his glasses, but this character hasn’t lived the same life as McDaniels – and he’s not the only hero, either. The comics start off in an alternate universe version of 1980s New York City, where a fictionalized version of McDaniels teaches English by day and fights crime by night.
Writing lyrics and writing a comic require different approaches. When McDaniels writes a song, he’s expressing a self-contained thought. Comics are trickier, he says, because you have to keep continuity in mind. Each book’s conclusion has to be open-ended enough to lead believably into the next comic.
“I don’t want one issue, DMC’s in the city, and the next issue, he’s off in some jungle doing voodoo,” McDaniels says, always quick with a joke, an anecdote or a ridiculous mental image. “It’s definitely harder to come up with the stories.”
Yet McDaniels feels he can tell universal stories through superhero tales. Comics did the same for him, after all. They lent him confidence as a kid, but they also helped him find his footing again at 35, when he was an alcoholic who considered killing himself.
With Run-DMC, and with so many music industry firsts under his belt, he had achieved so much at a young age. Something didn’t feel right, and he wanted to end his life.
“When I was about to kill myself, that’s when my mother and father said to me, ‘Son, you’re not really from us. You’re from another world,’ ” McDaniels says. “It’s like a Superman story. You’re a month old, and you’re adopted. That opened up a whole thing about my identity.”
McDaniels processed the news of his adoption through the lens of comics. Batman and Superman were both raised by adoptive parents, after all. And McDaniels always knew that he and his beloved Spider-Man were both from Queens, but now there was another connection: he and Peter Parker were both adopted.
This was one more way McDaniels could identify with the superheroes he idolized, and the knowledge saved his life. In his DMC comics, McDaniels consciously pays it forward by having the DMC superhero face similar questions about who he is.
“Everybody on the face of the earth deals with identity and that one question, do you really know who you are? Even if you’re not adopted, are you really only the football player? Are you really only the movie star? Are you really only the CEO?” says McDaniels. “Even for people in everyday jobs that make the world go – are you really just the bus driver or the plumber?”
‘The Legend Lives’
And now, to complete the circle, this rapper-turned-comics creator – whose Run-DMC was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009 – has a solo album coming out in early 2018, and the collaborator list reads like a who’s who of the music industry: Sammy Hagar, Joan Jett, Sebastian Bach, Tim Armstrong of Rancid.
On Nov. 24, he’s releasing four album tracks for Record Store Day Black Friday, including one featuring fellow rap legend Chuck D. This special vinyl release, called “Back From the Dead: The Legend Lives,” has a foot in each world McDaniels loves. The cover art was drawn by “The Walking Dead” artist Tony Moore as a gift for McDaniels. The two have mutual respect for each others’ work, and they met at a comic book convention.
“By me being a comic book geek and nerd from day one, even before hip-hop, here is the actual physical representation of how those two worlds exist,” McDaniels says, clearly thrilled. “It’s amazing how my hip-hop and my rock and roll, combined with the comic books, is still bringing people together.”
McDaniels isn’t the only comics-loving musician who has moved into the field, or even the only one who has been a guest at NC Comicon. Former My Chemical Romance vocalist Gerard Way now has a career writing comics, for instance, and has appeared at two NC Comicons.
Alan Gill, NC Comicon founder and president, said both musicians are serious about comics.
“DMC, he mostly wants to be known for his comics, that’s what he’s really pushing,” Gill said. “Gerard, too. Gerard doesn’t come to a comic convention to appease his music fans. He does it to create new fans, and DMC is the same way.”
What: NC Comicon: Bull City
Featured guests: Other guests at the Bull City con include Deadpool creator Rob Liefeld, actor Michael Rowe (who plays Deadshot on “Arrow”) and comics industry stalwart Klaus Janson, whose art credits include “The Dark Knight Returns” and “Daredevil.”
When: Nov. 10-12
Where: Durham Convention Center, 301 W. Morgan St., Durham
Cost: $20-$75. Kids 9 and under free. Full cost breakdown at nccomicon.com/bull-city/tickets.
Giving back: Every year NC Comicon partners with a nonprofit. This year, Extra Life will be set up in the new NC Comicon GameRoom, where all proceeds will go to their charity.