Comic Picks By The Glick

Hip Hop Family Tree vols. 1 & 2

August 29, 2014

I liked Ed Piskor’s “Wizzywig” well enough, but the fictional narrative he created to serve as a backbone for his exploration of hacker tech and culture came off as underdeveloped and very predictable.  For his latest project, the writer/artist has chosen to work exclusively in the realm of nonfiction to explore the origins of hip hop and its key creative forces.  The change in focus is mostly for the better as even though I’ve had little interest in this kind of music over the years, the story of its origins is fascinating to see unfold.  From DJ Kool Herc’s breakthrough in looping breaks together, to the block-wide blackout that allowed new DJs to spring up overnight with newly appropriated tech, to the MacGyver-esque creation of the Mighty Mighty Sasquatch sound system, and the Grandmaster Flash-backed local military send-off jam that gave us the term “hip hop” Piskor’s exhaustive unpacking of the music’s origins is fascinating to see unfold.  Seeing these ordinary (at first) people create a new style of music and culture from the ground up is invigorating and helps transcend the book’s appeal beyond its source material.

What keeps these volumes from being completely engrossing is likely down to the way they were originally published.  This series was originally serialized (and continues to be) at Boing Boing with a few pages going up every week.  While I imagine that reading the pages at each update makes for a nice self-contained experience, going through them all at once here reveals that there’s no real organization or narrative tying them all together.  The stories jump around from character to character at random making it very hard for any momentum to develop between strips or to get invested in the plight of its cast.  Also:  The boxed set of these two volumes I picked up at Comic-Con has its good and bad points.  What makes it worth picking up is that it comes with a bonus comic by Piskor that shows us Rob Liefeld’s hip-hop connection with Spike Lee and Eazy-E.  Not only does it have the focused narrative that these two volumes lack, Piskor draws the whole thing in Liefeld’s style for added hilarity.  That being said, there were numerous printing errors in my copy of the two volumes from this set.  So either I was very unlucky with the copy I got, or Fantagraphics is going to have a lot of angry customers to deal with when this set hits retail in October.  Hopefully these issues get fixed before then, because these volumes are great, if unfocused, reads and the Liefeld makes the package a great deal.

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