With HeroesCon less than one month away, I’m happy to bring our blog readers this interview with the talented Ed Piskor. Ed’s already had a notable career, including work on original graphic novels like Wizzywig and collaborations with Harvey Pekar on The Beats and Macedonia. You may have heard industry rumblings about Ed’s newest project, Hip Hop Family Tree. Aside from being one of the most comprehensive sequential studies of a genre that’s ever been undertaken, it’s a work that’s already receiving due respect and acclaim from both the comics and music communities. Make sure to stop by Ed’s table next month at HeroesCon and see why everyone’s talking about this book.
Seth Peagler (SP): Ed, I’ve known you for a few years now, and it seems like every time I’ve run into you, we’ve talked a little bit about this book-in-progress. Through those conversations and preparing for this interview, I realized that Hip Hop Family Tree is something you’ve been living with and building toward for a long time. How long do you think you’ve been consciously or subconsciously developing this book, and what made you want to collect it in this format now?
Ed Piskor (EP): I’ve been drawing comics incorporating classic Hip Hop imagery for as long as I’ve been drawing comics. I remember some of my earliest comic attempts in High School were like Hip Hop wannabe versions of Love and Rockets. Looking back at old interviews and stuff I found this interview from 2009 where I talk about wanting to do a Hip Hop comic. http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/ae/books/ed-piskors-graphic-novel-creates-sensation-among-genres-fans-346662/
“While working on “Wizzywig,” Piskor listens to old school hip-hop music for inspiration. When “Wizzywig” wraps, his next big project will be a history of hip-hop that focuses on the Boogie-Down Bronx and DJ Scott La Rock. He promises it will be exhaustive.”
Because it’s going to be an all encompassing and comprehensive work, it’s going to take forever to tell the entire story the way I want it to be told. In this day and age of the ADHD internet attention span, I felt it best to produce maybe one book a year to keep up a presence. Otherwise, I’d have to disappear for a decade and emerge with a doorstop of a comic, and that’s not quite sustainable or necessary. Some eras are more important to some people than others. A 100+ book per year feels right.
SP: A big part of the draw of the book for me is that you’re going back to the real roots of Hip Hop and tracing its progression over the years. Even though I know you’re a fan, did you consult many sources outside of the music? Are there many definitive histories of Hip Hop that you could even consult?
EP: There were some interesting things to look at while writing the book. It’s necessary to know the political/economic climate at the time. The fine art scene plays an integral role in the development of early Hip Hop as well, which many people might not know. If it wasn’t for the downtown scene gravitating toward graffiti culture it could have all died out in the early 80s.
There are several good books to reference out there, but, there are also 30 years of interviews with everybody who matters which are accessible either online, in magazines, or youtube. My goal is to take all the best stuff I can find from everywhere and distill it into a fun comix narrative. A tough goal, but, it’s what I’m shooting for, nonetheless.
SP: Along the way of writing and drawing the book, did you stumble across any lesser known artists whose stories you felt you needed to include? Since it’s essentially a history of the genre, did you feel compelled to tell it chronologically, or did you allow yourself to veer from that path at any point?
EP: Being a fan of Rap music already, this project gives me the chance to fill in the gaps of my knowledge. I’m not necessarily discovering new people to cover, but, I’m discovering what makes certain, more obscure people, important in the greater scheme of things.
This first book is fairly linear but we’re going to veer off and project things into the future here and there as the project moves forward, because I will be talking about certain people who may not have contributed much in, say 1982, but went on to do great things by 89 and if we handle it linearly, you’ll have forgotten their intro. Not sure if that makes sense. I guess the best example would be one of the newer strips I’ve done which will be in book 2, about the Jonzun Crew. http://boingboing.net/2013/04/23/brain-rot-hip-hop-family-tree-55.html
SP: As a musician and someone who is just starting to write comics that incorporate elements of music within my stories, I’ve run into some difficulty conveying the gravity of rhythm and melody on a page. I’ve seen several of your pages where you seem to not only capture the energy of specific artists and their charismatic stage performances, but also convey the communal aspects of an impacting live show. How did you go about capturing the specific musical identities of these performers through the art of comics?
EP: During such sequences the characters need to be larger than life and maybe even downright Kirbyesque if/when possible. The Hip Hop Family Tree, however, is more about the actual relationships that went into creating hip hop rather than just focusing on the music.
SP: I’d like to bring up one of your earlier books, The Beats. For those who aren’t familiar with it, in it you collaborated with the late, great Harvey Pekar, one of comics’ true innovators of journalism and memoir. Of course, the Beats chronicled historical and cultural figures within the Beat movement, but I’d imagine you learned a lot from working with Pekar on that specific book that might have been beneficial for you on this project. Were there any memories of collaborating with Pekar that resonated with you while you worked on Hip Hop Family Tree?
EP: I think working with Harv on The Beats gave me a strong clue into how to move the narrative along. Between each panel, days, months, or years can go by, and deconstructing Harv’s work gave me a roadmap for how to keep things tight. How to choose the correct moments to cover. Things like that.
SP: From what I’ve seen and read, Hip Hop Family Tree kind of stands alone as a unique chronicle of music in comics form. I’m excited that Fantagraphics is publishing the book, and I know you’re already receiving critical praise from comics journalists. Have you had much feedback from Hip Hop artists and journalists who cover the music?
EP: Yep, my phone number now seems to be within a network of rappers and journalists because I will randomly get calls from people at any hour of the day or night and it’s always a pleasant surprise. I don’t want to be a name dropper though. Everybody seems really into it and it’s creating a situation where I’m able to get some precious info that will enrich the story and that’s a cool bi-product that I wasn’t expecting. It’s cool too when different musicians tweet the strips. It helps propagate the material and spread the work.
Now that I have a handful of really cool people into the comic, whenever some random schmo has silly stuff to say, it gives me ammo to cut them down like “Oh that’s too bad you don’t like it, as long as “x” likes it, I guess I’ll just have to deal with that.”
SP: Finally, I’m wondering if you’ve allowed yourself to think about what kind of project you might want to work on next?
EP: Another thing about this project is that with the scope of the story I’m trying to tell, I know what I’m going to be working on for the foreseeable future.
SP: Thanks again to Ed for taking time out of his busy schedule for an interview. Make sure you make it a point to stop by his table next month at HeroesCon. His original art is something you’ll definitely want to see. Remember to pick up Hip Hop Family Tree when it hits the shelves. Rest assured, myself and other Heroes staffers will be talking about it when it does.