Lovers of Hip Hop and comic biographies will be waving their hands in the air this fall when Fantagraphics publishes Hip Hop Family Tree by Ed Piskor in October, a comics documentary on the formation of Hip Hop and the vivid personalities that created it. The 112-page work of graphic nonfiction will collect the serial webcomic that Piskor self-publishes regularly on boingboing.net.
Piskor is a graphic storyteller on the rise who can chronicle off-the-beaten path characters in a compelling way that draws comparisons to his past collaborator Harvey Pekar. Piskor worked on Macedonia (Villard), a 2007 quirky nonfiction book on conflict resolution, with Pekar and peace activist Heather Robinson, and also The Beats: A Graphic History (Hill & Wang) by Pekar and Paul Buhle, a 2010 comics documentary on the Howl/Beats poetry generation.
“Some of the stuff I did with Harvey has helped me to figure out how to weave a narrative where each panel to panel is a series of isolated moments that could be days or weeks or years apart,” Piskor told PW.
Hip Hop Family Tree comes on the heels of the Eisner-nominated Wizzywig, his cybercriminal coming of age tale which the PW review called a “fascinating look at a brilliant mind and indomitable spirit of a hacker.” Wizzywig was also chosen as one of PW’s Best Books of 2012
Piskor’s love of Hip Hop draws from his upbringing in Homestead, Pa., a rough, former steel mill town near Pittsburgh during the white flight of the early ‘80s. “The exact geography of my house nestled me in between a triangle of three parks and basketball courts that would have constant rap cyphers, b-boys with ghetto blasters, graffiti everywhere, etc.,” said Piskor. “Just being someone who would be very happy to fit in I became attracted to the culture, but once I started exploring hip hop deeper I knew that I loved it.”
That deeper understanding of the music, culture, history, politics and leading figures who shaped it comes alive in Hip Hop Family Tree. It begins with Kool Herc experimenting on vinyls in ‘70s era Bronx and follows to the forming of MC battle crews, adoption by the downtown arts scene and finally mainstream acceptance.
“What the Hip Hop Family Tree strip is about has little to do with the actual music,” Piskor explained. “It's a story about how creative people in the ghettos of the Bronx were able to get together and inspire each other long enough for other people to realize and generate a global culture.”
Along with Grandmaster Flash, Kurtis Blow and others, Piskor was keen to chronicle early entrepreneurs like Sylvia Robinson, Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin. “I sort of subscribe to a lot of the Malcolm Gladwell theories about the ‘tipping point’ and for there to be a big movement there has to be more of an infrastructure,” said Piskor. “Business minds are required if there's to be any lasting sustainability. There's a big part of the early history that gives credit to the downtown Manhattan hipster crowd with rejuvenating the entire movement because hip hop was dying out before it even got started around 1981. This is how Basquiat and Debbie Harry got involved early on.”
Piskor describes the creative process for each strip as a full week affair in which he spends a day of research and writing immersed in books, videos or interviews in search of inspiration for the week’s strip. From there, he spends the rest of the week drawing his pages by hand and coloring them on the computer.
“When I say ‘drawing’ I mean with pens and paper and using a T-square to rule lines, and an Ames guide to lay down guidelines for lettering,” said Piskor. “The color is digital and I spend a lot of time in the computer trying to make it look like it's not colored by computer.”
Near the title of each of page is the phrase “semi-regular, ongoing feature” a nod to his original intent to create an occasional series but the inspiration kept flowing the more he worked on each strip. Rather than cannibalizing a possible consumer base he believes the online strips have helped build anticipation for the collection.
“I heard from the peeps at Fantagraphics recently and they said that this is their strongest selling pre-order on their website by 4x.”