WONDERCON 2017 / CZARFACE [#GeekSwag Reviews]: Hip-Hop and Comics – First Weapon Drawn.
Hip-Hop and Comics are arguably two of the most historically popular and influential forms of entertainment media, so it’s only natural that they would have a confluence of fans and a panel at WonderCon 2017 to bring them together. As a pair of #GeekSwaggers who are quite obviously huge fans of both mediums, both “Pasto” Kevin Palma and “Monsignor” Travis Moody are proud to bring to you coverage of, both, the Hip-Hop and Comics panel from WonderCon, and a review of First Weapon Drawn — a Record Store Day exclusive read-along comic book and soundtrack — from the mighty #GeekSwag trio of Czarface. Now, hit that music.
HIP-HOP AND COMICS: CULTURES COMBINING (Saturday) – The annual panel, always moderated by Depth of Field’s Patrick A. Reed, began with a quick trip through the history of hip-hop culture in comics. They went from comics like Deadly Hands of Kung Fu (which shares influences with ol’ school hip-hop) to mainstream comics attempting to understand and depict breakdancers (including Todd McFarlane’s hilarious interpretation of one in an issue of Daredevil) all the way to the first hip-hop comic, Rappin’ Max Robot. They then went into comics being created by people on the panel. James Reitano‘s 1985 documents a single year when graffiti art took the city of Santa Cruz, CA by storm. The next was Kenny Keil‘s Rhyme Travelers, which was described as a primarily sci-fi book heavily influenced by hip-hop. Next came Ted Lange‘s Warp Zone, which he described as “Surreal Afro-futurist fantasy. Think hip hop by way of Super Mario Bros.”
The last, and most exciting, was by way Ted’s brother; Turner Lange‘s Wally Fresh — initially described as The Apartment starring Jack Lemmon, if The Pharcyde had done the soundtrack. Lange then revealed that he actually has a list of tracks that serve as a soundtrack for the comic. Upon hearing this, I couldn’t help but think that Lange may have found a truly unique way to capitalize on digital distriubution for comics. Outside of guided view, very few comics actually take advantage of the digital medium to do things that could never be done in print and Lange has seemingly found another. As important as that could conceivably be, however, the most important question asked at the panel was posed by Ted: Who would win a DC Universe Rap Battle that was Zatanna (who’s powers are word based) vs. Etrigan (literally spits out fire and rhymes) vs. Calvin Ellis aka “Obama Superman” (who’s rhymes are powered by the Sun) vs. Morpheus (spits rhymes so hard he made the Devil quit his day job)? All in all, this was an amazing, fun panel that further pushed the definition of #GeekSwag. 5/5 Fire-Spitting, Rhyming Demons.
While it’s been a minute since #GeekSwag was in the GHG buildin’, there was no way we were gonna pass up the opportunity to review a.. um.. let me get this straight.. a.. READ-ALONG HIP-HOP COMIC BOOK AND SOUNDTRACK. That’s right. The Masters of #GeekSwag are back, as Wu-Tang Clan’s Inspectah Deck teams up with 7L & Esoteric — for the official fourth time as Czarface — for an hip-hop audio and comic adventure original. Original, in fact, because this special Record Store Day vinyl, First Weapon Drawn, also serves as Czarface’s origin story inspired by the collector (yeah, maybe the guy from Guardians of the Galaxy) favorite Power Records Label that brought superheroes like Spidey and the Fantastic Four and other geek-cultural icons like G.I. Joe and Conan to life.
Now onto the music. If you’re expecting the usual beats and rhymes, then you’re halfway mistaken; this is a “read-along” audio book, after all. That said, as a diehard hip-hop head and diehard fan of the Rebel I.N.S. and the Esopterodactyl, I wish there would’ve been at least one or two bookend joints on the record with lyrics from the fresher-than-fresh pairing. The “Czarface Theme” that opens Side A should have been that joint. Regardless, producer 7L does his best Adrian Younge impression on the beat interludes with his self-proclaimed “Gritty guitars! Booming Baselines! And Killer Keys!” And I mean that in the highest possible complement. The percussion and funk “beat breaks” might even remind you of the classic Adam West Batman TV show! Funny, too, the very first joint we ever reviewed over here at #GeekSwag was Younge and Ghostface’s 12 Reasons to Die; that collabo was also the last time I heard anything remotely like this, except that thematic piece was told in a lyrical narrative.
While I don’t want to spoil any major story beats in the First Weapon Drawn comic, the visuals kick off ringside; no surprise, considering writer Esoteric is just as big of a fan of the action in the squared circle as he is inside of a 22-page superhero panel. So, yup! You heard that right: Czarface’s newest record is just as much flavored Ringside Apostles as it is #GeekSwag. And you wonder why we love them so? Without marking out too fuckin’ much, the comic does capture the 70s essence of Power Records, with mostly effective full-cheese voice acting and narrating in addition to Gilberto Aguirre Mata‘s massive, yet minimalistic art spreads. Eso’s humor as first time comic writer (also serving as voice actor) is impressive, too (“Space men carrying off a luchador. That’s an ambitious gimmick!”).
But just to be clear, #GeekSwaggers: the whole dope experience of FWD is only complete if you, well, astutely read-along to the stampeding percussion, mysterious keys and Doctor Octagonesque dizzying basslines. While I did get a litle lost in the whole journey, perhaps for reading too fast (although notes in the comic as to where to stop or keep reading would have been nice), I’d love to see the continuous comic/audio journey of Czarface become a thing — and not just a special Record Store day release. 3.5/5 Barry Horowitz’s.