Thought Bubble 2019: Looking At Hip Hop And Comics With Dave Gibbons And Juice Aleem

by Olly MacNamee

Afrika Bambaataa and The Soul Sonic Force

With the choice between Kieron Gillen waxing lyrical about his magnum opus, The Wicked + The Divine, or my good friend, Juice Aleem, along with David Gibbons, talking about the links between Hip Hop culture and comics, I chose the latter. Planning to only stick around for the first hour of this two-hour talk and workshop, by the end of the first hour I was transfixed. But then, I have been big fan of both comics and rap music for a long, long time, and this was something a bit different from your usual comic book panels.

So, this was an obvious workshop to sign up for, but even I was schooled by some of the knowledge of the connections between these two cultures. Here’s my Top Ten takeaways from this fascinating talk:

  1. Aleem started where it all began with a look at one of the most iconic characters adopted by early graffiti artist, Cheech Wizard comic book characters by Vaughn Bode (1967), which  is still used today by many graffiti artists.
  2. There are echoes of comics in all areas of Hip Hop. For example, Grandmaster Flash, Kool Herc (who took his name from The Herculoids 70’s cartoon), there was even an MC called Jean Grey!
  3. Aleem makes the obvious link between The Black Panthers and, of course, Marvel’s very own Black Panther. Although, Marvel actually beat this civil rights activists’ group to this particular moniker by a few months. Marvel were at the forefront of this one in comics, to reflect the real world and, in particular, the civil rights movement of the late 60’s. The Uncanny X-Men is the prime example, of course.
  4. As Blaxploitation films became the rage, Juice reminded the audience, this too was rejected in Marvel through such characters as Luke Cage, Hero for Hire.
  5. Early graffiti writers, like Ramellzee  were heavily influenced by comics. Arguably, he can also be linked to early cosplay too, building 3D versions of his artwork and looking like some kind of 70’s Manga character made flesh.
  6. But, it was Afrika Bambaataa and The Soul Sonic Force that leaned heavily on comic book covers for their LP, but not the last.  
  7. MF Doom was a rapper who had reinvented himself and wore a mask very similar to that of his namesake from The Fantastic Four. He’s even sent other rapper onstage instead of himself who he refers to as Doombots. 
  8. There are many examples of Hip Hop comics, featuring the likes of Kid and Play, KRS 1, and Public Enemy.
  9. When GZA (Wu Tang Clan) brought out his Liquid Swords LP, he looked to comic book artist Denys Cowan to illustrate his covers. And, there are plenty fo examples of this. My favourite -not mentioned in this panel – has to be Overlord X’s second LP cover by Joe Jusko and Simon Bisley.  (X Versus the World).
  10. Of course, in recent years Marvel have embraced Hip Hop with its series of variant covers homaging/parodying iconic LP covers. 


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