The creators of MF DOOM tribute comic on his legacy: "DOOM is pop culture"
When MF DOOM passed away last year, comics publisher Troy-Jeffrey Allen felt he had lost one of the most important artistic influences on his life. “He was one of those dudes that made me feel like it was okay to want to create stuff,” he tells Mic. “No matter how weird it is, no matter how bizarre and off the chart.” DOOM’s importance to Allen and other comic creators makes sense. He rapped with a combination of quirky non sequiturs, assorted comic book and pop culture references, and an astute attention to detail, while wearing an iconic metal mask inspired by the Marvel Comics villain Doctor Doom. His art was abstract, endlessly imaginative, and full of distinct, endearing characters and personalities. Allen, looking for a way to express his pain and admiration for DOOM, decided to create a mini-comic that paid tribute to the rapper’s life and career.
He reached out to his friend Maia “Crown” Williams, the founder of Midwest Ethnic Convention for Comics and Arts MeccaCon International Film Festival, and asked her to be the editor. From there, Williams contacted illustrator Sean “Smack!” Anthony Mack, along with colorist Luis Guerrero and letterer Deron Bennett. Their final product is ALL CAPS, a free digital mini-comic that chronicles DOOM’s career year-by-year with vibrant images that make sly references to lyrics, samples, and characters from DOOM’s life. Mic spoke to Allen, Williams, and Mack about creating the comic from scratch, how MF DOOM inspired them, and what they learned about the rap great in the process.
So where did the idea for this come from?
Troy: To be honest, I had to kind of sit a couple of weeks to figure out why I wanted to do this. I know it sounds pretentious, but MF DOOM was one of my muses. On December 31, I was sitting in this room and looking at my phone, working too late, and I saw that he died. I had just gotten the phone, and I threw it on the ground. I took it really personally, which is super surprising because I just don't get into celebrity culture. But I had to say something about it because I felt like I hadn't expressed enough what MF DOOM meant to me. It made sense to do it as a comic book, because he does the whole supervillain schtick. He pulled from Marvel Comics, Saturday morning cartoons, and all that stuff. It seemed like a no-brainer.
How often had you guys made full strips before this?
Crown: Both of them do. Smack has a strip called Revolutionary Times, and Troy-Jeffrey has a whole publishing company. I'm always on the production side and the convention side. I didn't start editing until maybe three years ago. But making a mini comic is harder, because it's almost like a short film: you have to tell the story in far less time and far less space.
After you had the initial idea, what was next?
Troy: Typically, my next step is to kind of go around and ask people, is this stupid? Should I not be doing this? One of the first people I even brought it up to was [Maia], and before I could even get it out, she was like, “We gotta do this shit. You're hiring me. I already know who the artist is.” She's a good person to give you a vote of confidence. And she’ll smack you down a little bit, too.
What made you pick Sean?
Crown: Even though Troy wanted the story to be darkness and despair, I thought that we could have this on some lightweight shit, also. That’s how Sean draws, but he does it in a style that’s old school but updated with hip-hop flair. I automatically know that anytime I’m editing something that has to do with hip-hop, I’m picking Sean because his artwork is perfect for that.
Troy: Sean’s artwork reminds me of a lot of those late 60s, 70s animated cartoons. All the stuff that DOOM was adjacent to when he did the Adult Swim album.
Tell me about the process of coming up with the idea for the story. It basically starts off with DOOM explaining his purpose for the mask, and the panels show his career year by year.
Troy: I went into it knowing that I wanted to use the lyrics in his music to tell the story. It's really difficult, there's no sound for comics so there’s already a barrier. I could have done the corny thing and had the lyrics writing the pages, and I did that for one panel, just because I couldn't resist. But I listened to this Red Bull Music Academy sitdown interview he did, it was a really long one and that’s kind of rare for him. I heard him say very specifically, that it wasn't about what [the artist] looked like – it was about what [the music] sounded like. And I kind of had this moment where I was like, shit, that's it. I'm gonna run with that, because it's a visual medium. So maybe Smack could visualize the sound. That was kind of my guiding light moving forward.
I went through a bunch of different versions of this. Ultimately, I settled on – and me and Crown had this conversation a few times – let's not get in the way of him. I didn't want to make the story about me. Whenever I caught myself saying things like, “rap sucks these days,” I’m like, that’s about me, that’s not about him. I just had to dial all that stuff back. The more I played with it and got artwork from Smack, I was like, I don't need to say that much. DOOM’s talking, Smack’s talking, so let's just let them speak and see what comes out of it.
Some of the references are clear. In one panel, you see DOOM with Danger Mouse, and Iron Man to represent Ghostface Killah. The next one has him with The Gorillaz and Czarface.
Troy: That panel is also a nod to Uncanny X-Men #200, The Trial of Magneto. The positioning of the characters is very specific to those comics from the ‘80s.
I kept looking for references in all his work. I remember the “One Beer” video with the one-eyed DOOM, so I wanted to work that in. I also wanted to work in “Kookies,” which was also on MM...FOOD. So I dropped Cookie Monster in the image. And Crown said, “you have to make it a point to show his influence.” I didn't lean into it as hard as I could have, but I wanted to show that this is DOOM’s influence. And then to also throw Cookie Monster here just to be weird as shit.
I’m looking at the last panel now, with Thanos. I wanted a villainous act, but I wanted it to be something that anybody could get immediately. I wanted something broad, but also something that was kind of not in his discography. I wanted to imply that DOOM’s legacy is continuing, regardless if he's here or not. I had another scene in the original script that I wrote where it's him and Czarface, snapping Superman's neck. I opted not to throw that in there, because we were pressed for space.
What are some other references that only a diehard comics or DOOM fan would know?
Troy: My hope is that people get this pretty instantly. I saw one guy point out on page two, King Geedorah, that’s one persona of his. I’ve got MF Grimm in the Professor X chair. Viktor Vaughn is actually on page three, in the first panel. We kind of mishmashed those two personas. For Madvillainy, I had to send one of the art pages back to the colorist because I was like, “he’s gotta wear a “Rhinestone Cowboy” hat. I gotta make that reference happen.” The newspaper image (on that page) is supposed to mimic the Madvillainy cover as well. I threw in Major Lazer and Dr. Octagon, because he’s definitely worked with Kool Keith before. If we're talking about these fictional characters that happened to be in space, I feel like Major Lazer and MF DOOM would team up at some point in time in my little fan fiction.
So what’s happening on the last page, with all these memorable characters locked up?
Troy: I was trying to play this idea: we opened the story up, and you think it's just DOOM — this rapper playing this role in the lab. Then we kind of show you the history of this character, but we visualize it and remove it from reality, entirely. My hope was the last page brought you back into this reality, and you realize that [this was all real].
There’s John Lennon there, because DOOM sampled The Beatles’ “Green Onion” for a song on Operation Doomsday. The character Ultraman was referenced on songs, there’s a reference to Superman, sample from the Superfriends cartoon. He sampled a bunch of old Marvel and Fantastic Four cartoons in the past, Master Shake is there to represent the Danger Doom album again. There's Robin in the background, and James Brown. So there's just a bunch of different people that he sampled. I guess the idea here is that he didn't just sample them: he kidnapped them, siphoned whatever he needed out of them, and caged them like a true villain.
Troy, as you mentioned, DOOM’s characters are one of the more definitive elements of his music. How big are the characters in your enjoyment of the music, and how important was it for you to get them into the story?
Troy: I've always been really obsessed with the creator and the process. The pop culture references are the icing on the cake. But when it comes to the individual characters, I am a comic book fan, so there are some aspects that spoke to me directly. I jumped at the opportunity to equate Ghostface with Iron Man, and the same thing across the board. DOOM is pop culture in a lot of ways. The New York hip-hop scene in the 80s, growing up in New York in the 80s, Saturday morning cartoons, comic books: when all these things intersect, DOOM is what you get. So I just wanted to make sure that we represent that and not leave that at the wayside, copyright laws be damned.
I shared some of the artwork in a few groups, we were doing these sporadic posts here and there. The fan art, I understand that and respect that. But it was really weird for me to see people taking images from his albums and then slapping them on a t-shirt and selling them. So I think it was already kind of in the air that, okay, people were exploiting this guy, even though he's left this planet. When I started sharing some of the artwork, some of the first things people asked me were like, “I don't know how to feel about this. What are you doing with this?” I’m like, it's free. I'm only doing this because I'm a fan. It’s just a giveaway to the internet; I had something I wanted to express, and I got it out.
Crown: And paid for it out of your own pocket, and paid all the artists their price, on time, no questions. We have to emphasize that, because motherfuckers don’t be doing that. The fact that he didn’t even want to charge for this says a lot. A lot of people call shit passion projects, without it being a passionate project.