In Nineteen Eighty Five, the comic book series by James Reitano, a group of teens come of age as hip-hop hits Santa Cruz. Their lives are shaped by the a then-budding youth culture revolving around DJs, MCs, street artists and break dancers. Technically, the story is fiction, but it's inspired by Reitano's own high school experience.
Reitano is the founder of the design and animation firm TFU Studios. He's created lots of music videos for artists ranging from The Dickies to Cut Chemist. Reitano's roots are in street art and, back in his high school years in Santa Cruz, he befriended an up-and-coming DJ now known as frequent Kool Keith collaborator Kutmasta Kurt. The connection between the two pop culture phenomena is strong for Reitano and Kurt and they aren't alone. That was the gist of "Hip-Hop & Comics: Cultures Combining," an in-depth discussion panel featuring hip-hop and comic book artists at WonderCon last Saturday night.
Journalist Patrick A. Reed, who writes about music and comics for Depth of Field Magazine, is moderating panels like this one across the country. He put together a similar event at New York Comic Con last fall. The WonderCon talk was one of the best convention panels I've ever attended. The guests were top notch. Reitano and Kurt were joined by Chali 2na of the recently reformed group Jurassic Five, producer extraordinaire Dan the Automator, comic book creator Kenny Keil and music business insider Toni Isabella. The conversation was lively and the insight given into the intersection of hip-hop and comics was outstanding.
Prior to the panel, I had the chance to speak to a few of the artists on board for the event. Kutmasta Kurt pointed out one of the earliest intersections of hip-hop and comics, Afrika Bambaataa & the Soulsonic Force's seminal single "Renegades of Funk." The cover of the 12" mimics that of a comic book cover, complete with a spoof of the Comics Code Authority seal of approval. He talks about the "narrative" in hip-hop, about artists creating characters in their songs. "It's alter egos, larger-than-life personas, self-mythologizing," says Kurt in our interview.