On Friday, October 8th at 11am at New York Comic Con, Comic Book Men reality show star and I Sell Comics podcast host Ming Chen moderated a panel entitled “The Business of Comics: Creativity and the Power of Branding,” featuring writer and newly-minted CBLDF board member Amy Chu, Atlantic Records’ Senior VP of A&R Riggs Morales, and Darryl McDaniels, best known as rapper DMC of the pioneering hip-hop group Run-DMC, more recently branching out into comic book writing with his DMC (Darryl Makes Comics) brand. Groundbreaking comic book writer and editor Larry Hama was initially announced as part of the panel, but was not in attendance.
While this post-pandemic edition of NYCC was more sparsely attended than previous years, DMC dominated most of the hour, and worked the decidedly limited crowd with a similar energy as he may have to a sold-out Madison Square Garden audience with Rev Run and the late Jam Master Jay. That’s not to say he hogged the panel, though, as he made a point of interacting frequently with Morales, with whom he’s worked professionally, and Chu, with whom he apparently shared a meal and conversation with the day before.
Chen kicked off the panel by shouting out the sound crew behind the scenes, encouraging the audience to give a hand to the staff as they “don’t get enough love.” After some brief introductions, little time was wasted before launching into questions for the panelists about the importance of “selling yourself” as a comic book creator or an otherwise creative person.
DMC implored the audience to remember that when you’re creating a brand, you always have to think from the perspective of your audience. Chen related an experience he had when DMC sent him his comic in a customized box that also contained a pair of special Run-DMC edition Adidas sneakers in Chen’s size. “Branding is about everything relevant and necessary to every person involved… if I’m going to send you a comic book, I have to realize you probably have other comics. So if I send you my comic, I might as well send it to you in a box where you can put your other comics. That way, when you read your comics, you never forget about my brand… it’s affiliating my brand with a lifestyle.” He added that “rock and roll and hip hop and comics are a lifestyle,” as are many other businesses like restaurants. Therefore, creating a brand is never about “just one thing.”
Chu, who is a graduate of Harvard Business School, emphasized that branding is not just about the money. By way of example, she referenced a conversation she had with DMC about his hesitancy to do business involving alcoholic beverages, as he prefers to maintain a “more family-friendly” image. “I’ve also been sober for 14 years,” DMC added, prompting hearty applause from the audience. Plus, he didn’t want to be “just another musician” who thought he could sell liquor “just because he had a hit record.”
Morales shared his philosophy that people have to take a rather holistic approach to marketing, using the logo on one of DMC’s comics as an example. The logo alone is iconic, he explained, and Chen, as a typeface enthusiast, jokingly interjected to ask what kind of font DMC used.
This being a comic book convention, DMC naturally took the time to emphasize the rich relationship between hip hop and comics, especially superheroes, and particularly how his superhero fandom influenced his rap career from the very beginning. Stan Lee was a master of branding, and DMC enthusiastically admitted that some of his earliest rhymes were “stepping on” brands previously established by Lee. “I wasn’t just screaming ‘Queens’ because I was repping my borough,” he said. ” I couldn’t get over that Spider-Man was from Queens!” Thor comics were an influence too. “Thor had a hammer, I had a mic.”
Morales, in his position as a senior employee of a major record label, explained the importance of saying no. Sometimes a “no” leads to a “yes” when parties return with better offers, he said, but it’s also important not to overextend one’s brand. He used 50 Cent as an example, as the rapper is a successful business man today, but put his name on too many products and brands early in his career. “When 50 cent popped off… it was an example of what happens when you do too much.”
One of the most interesting moments of the Q + A segment came via a question from an audience member who apparently missed an opportunity to get involved with Google in its early days, and wondered what opportunities the panelists regretted saying no to. Morales elicited gasps from the crowd when he revealed that for various reasons in his capacity as “an A&R guy” he passed up on the opportunity to sign massively popular hip hop artists including Kid Cudi, Clipse, J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar, and Pitbull. That’s not to say he didn’t discuss his successes too, though, telling stories about the unlikely success of his involvement in Lin Manuel Miranda‘s wildly successful hip hop musical Hamilton.
After wrapping up the questions and answers, DMC screened a music video for his new song “Bad Guy,” lyrically rife with superhero references. While he’s branched out into many different kinds of businesses since the untimely murder of Jam Master Jay led to Run DMC’s demise, it’s clear that he never lost his passion for music and comics.
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