A Reading List to Love H.E.R. (Hip-Hop Comics Reading List)
by Ryan Balkam & Dylan Abuel
“... I swear to God, hip-hop and comic books was my genesis.” - Slug of Atmosphere “Always Coming Back Home to You..”
I was living in LA’s Koreatown during middle school. I would get bussed up to the suburbs of Woodland Hills because the local schools were full. Since most of my school friends lived all over the Valley, I stayed in most nights and didn't socialize with neighborhood kids. I lived in a small studio apartment with my sister and my mother so there wasn’t a lot of space for me to have my own thing. So I would wander out to the fire escape of 318 S. Kingsley Dr., armed with sketchbook, a graphic novel and my old discman. From the third floor of that old Hollywood-style apartment, that fire escape became my escape from the lack of space in my real life. Those books and those beats were all that ever really belonged to me. The myriad of characters who grew with me, grew to be a part of me. From Del the Funky Homosapien to the Kitty Pryde.
You can tell a lot about a person by what’s in that person’s playlist and by what comics they they read. If music is what moves us, comics has to be the visions that guide us. The feeling you get digging thru the dollar bin at your LCS is the same feeling as digging through crates at a record shop. That grail you find at a yard sale could possibly have that rare European LP you’ve been looking for too. Music can go hand in hand with any medium, but none as prominent as hip-hop and comics. The reason why differs from person to person, but there is that underlying fact remains: in one way, shape or form, we were all outcasts in our own way.
We found solace in these worlds.
We found lessons.
We found heroes.
We found ourselves.
The following is list that Ryan and I have compiled that show that relationship and to give that kid on the fire escape something cool to read with your headphones on.
In an alternate timeline, DMC of Run-DMC dons a tracksuit and shell-toed Adidas to become savior of the drug and crime infested streets of New York in the 80s, not as the hip-hop icon, but as crimefighting four-finger ring wearing superhero DMC! This series of graphic novels by the rap hall-of-famer is one of the prime examples of the music genre and it’s relationship to the comics world. The art is as bombastic and as loud as a New York City subway in the midst of the 1980’s graffiti renaissance and the story is as down to earth as the pavement that this hero calls home. This is a definite must-read for fans of both mediums of art and music!
Yeah, we know. We’ve been harping and talking about this pretty much all week but with good reason. This modern-day tale of family, tradition, rebellion, and magic was literally brought to life with hip-hop as its background music as it was being created. Set in the birthplace of hip-hop itself, panel after panel, from Prospect Park to Harlem, this series has that complete “NY State of Mind” feel to it.
As a kid my mom used to get the Los Angeles Times. 99% of the time I really didn’t care for it and thought it was a waste of paper. That other 1% was scouring the the comic strips for my favorite comic strip of all time, The
Boondocks by Aaron McGruder. In four panels or less, McGruder brought humor an social commentary in the form of Sunday Funnies. Later adapted in collected editions
and an adult.swim series, this was the backpacker era’s version of the Peanuts.
HIP-HOP FAMILY TREE
This series, in my opinion, showcases the sheer brilliance of Piskor's work. He tackled a subject that is very near and dear to me, Hip-Hop. Comics and Hip-Hop have gone hand & hand for me going all the way back to high school for me. But the history of those 2 things goes back further than that. So to see a book like this being made, blew my mind. The amount of research that Piskor must have done for this book is absolutely astounding. I learned more from this series then I ever knew before.
Ed Piskor was a favorite of the underground comic scene until the Eisner award-winning “Hip-Hop Family Tree Vol. 1” put him in the spotlight. He was best known for his work with Harvey Pekar and of course his computer hacking book, “Wizzywig”. HIP-HOP FAMILY TREE started as a web comic on a popular site, but it didn't take long before it was picked up for print. This is not just a comic, though, it is a compendium of Hip-Hop knowledge.
This is the ESSENTIAL book for all Hip-Hop heads to read and is a testament to the magic of melding Hip-Hop and the comic medium together.
FELT: TRUE TALES OF UNDERGROUND HIP-HOP
For those of you that don't know who Felt is, I'm here to drop some knowledge on you. Felt is the group name that underground legends Slug (from Atmosphere) and Murs (from Living Legends) record under. They've recorded three albums together which all have one theme in common -- Hollywood actresses they’re infatuated with. Their debut “Felt: A Tribute to Christina Ricci” (2002), the follow up “Felt: Vol. 2: A Tribute to Lisa Bonet” (2005) and “Felt 3: A Tribute to Rosie Perez” (2009).
It's their second album that this full-length black and white comic book titled “Felt: True Tales of Underground Hip-Hop” was produced to coincide with. This isn't' your typical promotional comic though, it was made with Jim Mahfood, an artist heavily associated with music and musician comic. Mahfood was given100% control of the project’s creative output and what ended up on the page. His graffiti/underground style was perfect for this project. This is a project that all Hip-Hop heads need in their collection
As most fans of the Wu-Tang Clan know, they have been more entrenched with the comic industry than any other crew in the Hip-Hop game. Through not only their rhymes but their aliases as well, they made it clear that they were true fans of the art form. They have put out various graphic novels and comics, one more of which we'll get to later.
"The story of Peerless Poe, a private dick with a background in combating the supernatural, was not highly original or groundbreaking, but the highly kinetic black and white interior art alone is worth the cover price."
In 2008 Method Man got together with artist Sanford Greene and writer David Atchison to produce his self-titled graphic novel for Grand Central Publishing. A book that is both visually appealing and a must for any fans of the Wu. Plus you can never go wrong with the amazing art of Sanford Greene
THE NINE RINGS OF WU-TANG
This was the Wu-Tang Clan’s first foray into the comics. In 1999, they produced “The Nine Rings of Wu-Tang.” at the Image imprint Avalon Studios. It had the kind of "clean manga look that was all the rage in the late ‘90s/early ‘00s". Aaron Bullock and Brian Haberlin wrote the book, while Clayton Henry rounded out the creative team with his action-packed art.
Drawing on the same type of Kung-Fu flicks the Wu based their image on, this book transforms the Wu into nine martial artists with mystical powers holding darkness at bay. While they mostly retain their stage name (Masta Killa, Raekwon, The Genius and RZA). They also adopt other names, such as short versions (Ghost, Dek) or their more obscure aliases (ODB as Osirus, U-God as Golden Arms). Method Man goes by his rarely used MZA moniker and his character is "the baddest martial artist on the planet."
Once again I can't recommend this to fellow Wu fans enough, just like the last few books I mentioned, you might have to dig around on Ebay to score these. But they're well worth the hunt.
SENTENCES: THE LIFE OF MF GRIMM
When Percy Carey, aka MF Grimm, stepped onto the comics scene in 2007, he delivered an autobiographic work that was gritty and engaging. His unrestrained narrative coupled with the striking black and white art by Ronald Wimberly elevate the drama exponentially . It was the perfect book to come from Vertigo and a shining example of the diversity in projects that the imprint was known for. “Sentences” was a high-water mark for Hip-Hop comics.
In 2008, Grimm (Percy Carey), was nominated for two Eisner Awards for Sentences, Best Reality Based Work and Best Lettering. He was also nominated for, and won, two Glyph Awards for Best Cover and Story of the Year.
Somehow this book fell completely under my radar when it first came out, but having discovered it recently, there was no way I could leave it off of this list.
This concludes our week of Hip-Hop at Comic Lounge. These are all essential books to have on any Hip-Hop heads shelves. Hope you guys like this curated list and hopefully you discover some books you've never heard of before. While this may be the end, don't trip Dylan and I will return with Hip-Hop wee pt.2 in the future.
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