Hip Hop Family Tree by Ed Piskor

Ed Piskor is an American alternative comic book artist. He gained his first fame illustrating stories in Harvey Pekar's 'American Splendor' series. Among his original works are the satirical comic 'Wizzywig' (2011) about hacking culture, and the educational graphic novel series 'Hip Hop Family Tree' (2012-2016), which deals with the history of hiphop. In 2017 he created another historical passion project, 'X-Men: Grand Design', a nostalgic look back at the history of Marvel Comics' 'X-Men' franchise. 

Early life and background
Ed Piskor was born in 1982 in Homestead, Pennsylvania. His parents worked at U.S. Steel's Homestead Works, but the factory closed when Ed was just four years old. Many people were already poor, but now it became even more difficult to tie strings together. Piskor's family was one of the last white families to live in Homestead's predominantly black neighbourhood. As a child he got along fine with everybody, but as soon as puberty set in many of his black friends suddenly started forming their own cliques. Many bullied him because he was white and because he didn't come from a broken home. Feeling more like an outsider, Piskor started struggling with his health. At age 15 he was hospitalized for several days because he suffered from colitis, an inflammation of his intestines. Several transfusions and surgeries kept him alive, but he asked his parents whether he could  follow a homeschooling program. That way he wouldn't have to put up with discriminatory pupils any longer and could just concentrate on becoming a professional cartoonist. His parents agreed and from that moment he fully devoted his life to his goal. His homeschooling only required four hours of school each week. This left him with plenty of time to study drawing and hang out with other cultivated people. Piskor always said his determination was so strong because he saw no other alternative for his future. 

As a child Piskor loved superhero comics, particularly 'Spider-Man' and 'X-Men'. Among his main graphic influences were Michael Golden, Marc SilvestriJack KirbyGilbert Hernandez, Jaime Hernandez and Jim Lee. As a preteen he happened to catch a broadcast of the legendary documentary film 'Comic Book Confidential' (1989) on TV. The film interviewed several mainstream artists he knew, but also delved into a genre previously unfamiliar to him: underground and alternative comix. This, and Les Daniels' book 'Comix', introduced him to people like Will EisnerRobert CrumbDaniel Clowes, Chris Ware and Harvey Pekar. Piskor spent a year at the Joe Kubert School of Art. Although his stay was short, he did meet some like-minded cartoonists there, like Tom Scioli, Jim Rugg and Frank Santoro. Around this time he also drew his own underground mini-comics, 'Deviant Funnies' and  the autobiographical 'Isolation Chamber'. After leaving school he worked at a call center and sold  tickets at a local haunted house. 


'American Splendor: Our Movie Year'

American Splendor
In 2003 Piskor noticed Harvey Pekar's address in one of his 'American Splendor' comics. While unsure whether it was real or not he still sent him a letter based on this address. To his delight it turned out to be genuine and Pekar offered Piskor to illustrate some stories for him, which would be published in the 'American Splendor' series. He illustrated several stories, among them a segment of 'Our Movie Year', which dealt with Pekar's reflections on the 2003 'American Splendor' movie adaptation by Robert Pulcini. Originally Piskor only had to draw a four-page story, but Pekar soon asked him to expand it to 25 pages within a few days. The young artist fought against the deadline for several days and managed to finish it all off in time. It then became apparant that Pekar had wanted to test him. He hired him to illustrate a full-blown graphic novel named 'Macedonia' (Villard Books, 2007). 

Macedonia & The Beats
'Macedonia' was based on a thesis written by a female student about the geopolitical destabilisation of the Balkan region. It was a very dry text and Piskor felt somewhat overwhelmed having to illustrate such a project with little professional experience. The same went for his contribution to 'The Beats: A Graphic History' (Souvenir Press, 2009), which expresses the history of the Beat Poets through the eyes of a couple of teenagers in the 1950s. Looking back at his collaboration with Pekar, Piskor felt it was a great learning experience, but he still regards the work he produced for him as an old shame. He felt somewhat guilty that he couldn't make it as excellent as he aspired. Particularly since both were some of Pekar's final projects before he passed away. Piskor also worked with another comics legend and personal hero: Jay Lynch on his 'Mineshaft' series. It also motivated him to avoid graphic collaborations from them on, since he doesn't like another artist or inker screwing up his drawings. Therefore he writes, draws, inks and colourizes everything personally. 

Wizzywig by Ed Piskor
'Wizzywig'

Wizzywig
In late 2011 Piskor created his self-scripted comics series: 'Wizzywig' (Top Shelf, 2012). The story is a satirical take on computer hackers. Piskor was inspired by the podcast series 'Off the Hook', which documented hackers from a political perspective. The show interviewed many real-life hackers, even as they eventually got into legal trouble. Some were eventually jailed over their crimes. What fascinated Piskor the most was that most were just young people having fun playing online pranks or thinking about complicated virtual problems. Some only now discovered that most of what they did was a punishable offense. Realizing many hackers share a similar mindset and ideology he felt it would be interesting to combine everything he read in one fictional character, Kevin Phenicle, aka "Boingthump". 

Around the same time as 'Wizzywig', Piskor started the webcomic 'Deleterious Pedigree' (2011). Posted on his on his own site the story follows a white teenager with artistic talent who grows up in a black neighbourhood. As time progresses he becomes increasingly more obsessed with drawing and suffers from neurosis. Piskor also designed characters for Eric Kaplan's animated TV series 'Aqua Teen Hunger Force' on Adult Swim, but was quite underwhelmed when he saw the final product air on television. It didn't resemble at all what he'd worked on for months. 


'Hip Hop Family Tree' #4: 1984-1985 (2016)

Hip Hop Family Tree
In 2012 Piskor started a monumental project, named 'Hip Hop Family Tree' (2012-2016). It narrates the history of hiphop and various legendary artists and groups, among them the Sugarhill Gang, Grandmaster Flash, Run DMC, Schoolly D., the Beastie Boys, Ice-T, Public Enemy, Dr. Dre, Rakim, Will Smith...  Piskor said he was inspired by Robert Crumb's biographical comics about old blues and country artists. Just like Crumb loves music from the interbellum, Piskor is a hardcore hiphop fan. Even as a child he'd try to dig up the oldest singles by certain hiphop artists, particularly trying to find out where a certain musical sample came from? He is so well-educated in the genre that he felt he would be the right artist to make a comic book about the genre. As a bonus he would learn more about its roots too. 'Hip Hop Family Tree' doesn't just focus on the historic facts, but Piskor also illustrated many fascinating and occasional funny anecdotes about certain artists. Graphically Piskor gave the stories a yellowish newsprint effect to match the "old school" feeling. 

From January 2012 until December 2015, the stories were prepublished weekly on the website 'Boing Boing'. Fantagraphics later published the series in comic book format. In 2015 'Hip Hop Family Tree, Volume 2' won the Eisner Award for Best Reality-Based Work. It also entered the New York Times Best Sellers list, landing the artist an interview in Time Magazine. Rap legend DMC (of Run DMC) praised 'Hip Hop Family Tree' with the words: "I'm happy this book is here, because it tells a truth." Fab Five Freddy (Grandmaster Flash) shared a panel from one of the comics on his Facebook page and stated: "Being in an Ed Piskor comic is cool enough to freeze hot water." Chuck D. (Public Enemy) also tweeted favorable comments about Piskor's work.


'Hip Hop Family Tree'

As a huge fan of comics and hiphop since childhood Piskor also saw a correlation between the two art forms. Both are trash pop culture, initially scorned by true art lovers but eventually gaining more critical respect. Many cartoonists and hiphop artists take pseudonyms to give themselves a different public persona and alter ego. Both rapping and cartooning are often said to be easy. Most importantly, Piskor noticed that both hiphoppers and cartoonists have a tendency to borrow material, or sample, from their predecessors and colleagues. It motivated him to pay more homage to other comics in some of his panels. 

X-Men: Grand Design
In December 2017 a childhood dream came true for Piskor as he wrote and drew a comic book series about the history of the 'X-Men' team of mutants, which was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1963. The series, 'X-Men: Grand Design', looks back at the entire history of the Marvel Comics franchise and retells it chronologically. Piskor uses the character Uatu the Watcher as a framing device. 


X-Men: Grand Design - Second Genesis #2

www.edpiskor.com

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