Sexism is making your way through the first Metroid game and not being able to accept that the character you spent the better part of a week blasting aliens with was a woman. Police brutality topped off with every “ism” you can name threatens everyone who’s not a straight white male to conform to expectations – and sometimes even that’s not enough to dodge death. Escapism into popular culture is a big part of how people the world over unearth the hope buried in their lives, and for over half a century, comic books have been as good a space as any for people to dive into. Even considering that comics whisk us away to fantastical worlds (or sometimes simply amplify our own), it was a jarring experience when I realized that there were very few comics centered around people who weren’t white men; people of different colors, genders, sexualities, etc. were left on the peripheries at worst or relegated to supporting player status at best.
Thankfully, the tides have been turning in a big way, with Marvel re-branding Captain America, Spider-Man, Ms. Marvel, and Thor as different races and genders, with more coming. DC recently premiered an animated series about Vixen, a PoC lady hero, and has finally taken the long-awaited Wonder Woman movie off the back burner; but the mainstream isn’t the only place where the gears are shifting. Independent imprints regularly challenge the norms of the comic book industry, and Darryl “DMC” McDaniels is looking to stir the pot further with LAK6, the second hero coming from Darryl Makes Comics.
One third of legendary rap group Run-D.M.C., McDaniels has been an avid comic book fan since he was a young Catholic school student living in Queens: “In history [class], you learn about World War II; Captain America takes you there. In science class, you learn about the eight planets and the rest of the galaxy; The Silver Surfer takes you there,” he mentioned in an Google Talk from last month. With his PoC-run independent imprint Darryl Makes Comics, DMC and editor-in-chief/art director Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez have committed themselves to transporting their readers to a very specific place: 1980s-era New York City. “The universe we’ve created is very grounded in 1980s hip-hop and graffiti culture,” Miranda-Rodriguez mentioned in an exclusive interview. “It’s a raw love letter to all of comic culture and especially a love letter to New York City.” Darryl Makes Comics burst onto the scene with their critically-acclaimed debut #1 just last year, with a b-boy inspired hero decked out in an Adidas tracksuit with matching shoes and gold rings that literally impressed DMC upon the wicked. While DMC’s roll-out introduced us to the imprint at large, McDaniels, Miranda-Rodriguez, and their creative team, including writer Amy Chu, inker Allison Smith, colorist Kristin Sorra, cover artist Tula Lotay, and graffiti illustrator Lady Pink are confident that LAK6 will make sure they’re here to stay.
The upcoming second release from DMC, #1.5, details the story of LAK6, a graffiti artist whose real name is Leticia; who’s inspired by DMC’s heroics and decides to join in on the crime-fighting action. “LAK6 had only made some cameos in the DMC #1 but there was really no story for her yet,” writer Amy Chu elaborated. “I wanted to make an action oriented story that everyone would enjoy, but also filled out her background, her motivations and her relationship with her mentor DMC…If there’s nothing I hate more is to see a woman in a story as just window dressing. LAK6 is a kickass character that I hope a lot of young people will be able to relate too.”
Between her story (her parents Angelo and Karla died in a fire when she was 6, hence her tag name) and her design, she won’t have a hard time gaining new fans. Special attention was paid to her visualization, according to Miranda-Rodriguez: “We wanted to go with a look that wasn’t over sexualized or a mockery, but something that was just dope,” he elaborated. Inspiration for her design came from all across the map, from graffiti artists and feminist activists, most notably artist/tagger Lady Pink, who contributed to the book as a graffiti illustrator, and the Puerto Rican-tinged feel of the Chelsea neighborhoods. Through Instagram, Miranda-Rodriguez got in touch with artist Allison Smith, who worked on drawing the base for LAK6 in her inaugural issue. “She [LAK6] wants to be taken seriously as someone who can make a change in a world that needs it, and I knew it was my job to express that through my pencils and inks,” Smith says. “The character is just as much of a representative of the world as it is for her, so it was very easy for me to visualize the way she’d look and act on everything around her.”
The entire creative team for issue 1.5, which also includes digital colorist Kristin Sorra and cover artist Tula Lotay, was cultivated for the attention to detail and fleshed-out personality that all five of these incredible women had the potential to bring to the character of LAK6, and it’s one that’s paid off spectacularly enough that it’s bound to make a lot of noise. Lotay hopes that “comics like DMC will make other publishers take notice.” As Miranda-Rodriguez puts it, the approach for this issue was “Ladies First.” Progress is being made on the mainstream front when it comes to representation in comics, whether it be appealing to different cultures or different races/genders, but as long as comic publishers and Hollywood are seeing profits, there will always be a glass ceiling on how high marginalized people can climb – unless we create and foster our own routes to the top. Amy Chu sums it up nicely: “As people of color, we need to be part of the group that makes these stories, whether it’s comics or Hollywood, for us and for the next generation;” which is exactly what DMC and company are setting out to do with LAK6.
DMC will be signing copies of issue 1.5 at Forbidden Planet in NYC on Wednesday, September 2 from 5-7 before hitting New York Comic Con from October 8-11, so if you’re in the area, come through!