I’m very excited and delighted to present this post with everyone. We recently shared some words with Ed Piskor, creator of Top Shelf’s newest graphic novel, Wizzywig. Piskor shared his thoughts and creative process with his newly published graphic novel, as well as some personal info and his current work with his ‘Hip Hop Family Tree,’ strips. As always, Drawn Words is very thankful to have spoke with the great man, Ed Piskor.
Drawn Words: Unfortunately, Ed Piskor does not have a Wikipedia page [Note: At the time of this interview, he really didn't. Honestly.], so I’m left out of a lot about your earlier life, where you grew up, and a ton of other comics and work you’ve done outside of working with Harvey Pekar. Do you mind giving us a brief rundown of who you are?
Ed Piskor: I had a Wikipedia page and didn’t know it disappeared until you mentioned this. I’m glad though, some of that stuff was embarrassing and really really wrong, from what I remember. I’m from, and live in, Pittsburgh, and have been doing comics, graphic novels, and even some work in animation for the past 8 years. Wizzywig is the first, solo, piece of work I’ve done on any big scale. Aside from doing some American Splendor strips for Pekar, I drew 2 graphic novels with him, Macedonia, and The Beats. In 2009-2011 I designed the characters, and did artwork for an Adult Swim cartoon called “Mongo Wrestling Alliance“.
DW: Before working on with underground comic legend Harvey Pekar on American Splendor, what exactly were you doing to break through the comics industry?
EP: I honestly just did a few comic strips before working with Harvey. I think he gave me a call after the 9th page I’ve ever fully completed.
DW: How did Pekar find you?
EP: I would send these comic strips of mine to every cartoonist who’s address I could find. This is before Myspace and Facebook, and many creators didn’t have websites or contact info online, so I would comb the letters pages, or back matter of books. A month or so after the movie came out Harvey gave me a call, which was surreal, to say the least.
DW: You’ve done a slew of comics since being published with Harvey Pekar on a handful of comics such as American Splendor, Macedonia, and The Beats: A Graphic History. Since then, you’ve stuck to self-publishing comics on the Internet. Why the choice in producing comics for websites as opposed to publishing in book format?
EP: I actually did self publish book versions of Wizzywig. 3 volumes. I really like the idea of sharing work on the internet, and I consider my online stuff to be a first draft. I’m a believer in creative commons, and giving work away, allowing people to support my stuff after digesting it and seeing if it’s for them. I would hate it if someone plunked their money down on something I did and then disliked the material. Also, with what I’m doing now, The Hip Hop Family Tree, I’m striving for accuracy, and if there’s anything wrong in the strips I’m posting, there has to be at least a few of the million Boingboing readers who’d be more than happy to blast me in the comments or send an email.
DW: I’ve been reading a ton of your older entries of Brain Rot on BoingBoing lately. I notice that while each entry of Brain Rot is different, they all seem to have a certain similarity in which they’re all products of you venting in pop culture and media of today and yesterday. It’s pretty similar to what we do at Drawn Words, by presenting certain info and articles in comic form. Do you feel like the comic method is a better way to present emotion and explain certain points than other medium? Are there certain advantages and disadvantages using this form over others?
EP: Comics is just my form of choice to express myself, pure and simple. I don’t know how effective it is in my hands, but, there certainly are great creators out there, who can generate emotion and manipulate your feelings. I feel like the stuff that I do lacks that humanity, which is kind of, indicative of where my head is at, most of the time. I like to run away from emotion and maintain that Iceberg Slim composure about everything. The major disadvantage to comics is just that it’s a highly inefficient method of telling stories, from the creators perspective. Each page requires so much labor and, if you do your job right, it can be digested in seconds. I got to be an extra in a movie for a month and a half and I can see that film making is highly inefficient as well, but, the advantages Hollywood has is the sheer manpower involved with each aspect and they obviously pay higher dividends at the end…which I guess negates the inefficiency argument, now that I think about it. They put a lot of work in, and can get a lot out, financially, at least. Fuck those guys.
DW: So where exactly did Wizzywig initially originate from?
EP: When I was working on Macedonia for Harvey, I found a 20+ year archive of a really great radio program called “Off The Hook”, that largely focused on the political implications that came with being a hacker. I consumed the entire 1000+ hour cache of content, over a 14 month period, and developed such a knowledge on the subject, that I don’t think any other cartoonist out there is/was equipped to tell such a story, so I figured that seemed like the perfect reason I should do it.
DW: I’ve read in a couple of other interviews that the main character of Wizzywig, Kevin, was inspired by several real life hackers and phone phreakers. Who are some of these hackers that Kevin is a reflection of?
EP: Kevin is to all the greatest hackers in America, as Charles Foster Kane was to William Randolph Hearst. Some of the hackers who inspired my Kevin are, Kevin Mitnick, Kevin Poulsen, Phiber Optik, Bernie S., Emmanuel Goldstein, Joybubbles, John Draper, and probably close to 10 more.
DW: You’ve been self-releasing Wizzywig for years now. Have any of your inspirations ever seen these comics? Have you gotten any attention from any other hackers with these comics?
EP: Almost everyone I mentioned has seen the comics and nobody has complained about inaccuracies, or overly anachronistic bull crap. In fact, for a while, I’ve been getting invited to different hacker conventions and technology conferences, where I’ve met a lot of these guys, which was pretty cool. I got the same feeling, meeting the hackers who inspired my project, as any Joe Schmoe would feel if they met their favorite Football player or something.
DW: The entirety of Wizzywig is releasing in July one collection, thanks to Top Shelf Comix. While reading my advanced copy of the comic, I flipped back and forth between your web archives of the comics and the collection releasing in July and noticed some differences in panels and dialogue. Why the changes? What all has been changed in this new edition?
EP: What’s even funnier, and more ridiculous, is that the stuff you’ve seen on the web is a second iteration of the work, in terms of the prose. The first self-published books are so overly verbose, and poorly written, that I had to amend so much, that I basically took a whole year off from producing new work, to tweak everything that was already drawn. When it came time to get all the material together for the book, I reread the story and anything that made me have a negative reaction I decided to change. It’s better to do that, then let something slide and hate myself when it’s published. Lots of the verbiage is changed, and some panels are redrawn too. Oh yeah, and a lot ofspelling errors, hopefully all of them, were fixed.
DW: Your new entries of Brain Rot are now compiled of something you call the ‘Hip Hop Family Tree,’ explaining the origins of hip-hop and starring folks such as Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash, and Eddie Cheba. Do you find yourself listening to old school hip-hop a lot more now since starting these comics?
EP: I’ve always listened to old school Hip Hop as my major genre of choice. It’s the foundational knowledge that provided the initial basis for the project. I’ve got a playlist of every major rap single from 1979-1998 and I play it on shuffle a lot, then, the jams that I really gravitate toward, I start focusing on those particular artists until I exhaust their library. With both the Hip Hop Family Tree and Wizzywig comics, you pull a ton of facts together to show wonderful tales and stories revolving around real people, so naturally, a ton of research is put into what you present.
DW: What kind of resources do you use when writing factual comics? Have you even spoke to anyone you’ve written about or took inspiration from with your work?
EP: I use everything I can, from Documentaries, Audio Commentary tracks, interviews, books, and anything else that might provide a cool moment for a strip. With Wizzywig, I spoke to many of the men who inspired the work. With the Hip Hop Family Tree, there’s been a trickle of correspondence with various guys. One thing that I do love is that Chuck D and Fab Five Freddy shared my comics with their followers on Twitter a few times. Actually, so did a few other emcees and DJ’s, but, I don’t wanna do too much name dropping. I feel as though while your illustrations and storytelling are so incredibly gripping, you still are relatively unknown in the comics industry.
DW: Sadly, there are a large number of artists and writers who are unknown or undiscovered, due to the fact it’s so difficult to break through the industry if you don’t have connections or ties already. How do you do it? What do you think is important when presenting yourself to others and getting the word out of your comics and illustrations?
EP: I’m not too sure on this at all. I’m not worried about it either, to be honest. I feel like you should just do work that’s as pure of intent as possible and everything should be okay. It also goes back to the inefficiency of the medium. I’ve spent 5 years on Wizzywig. Half of my 20′s. And I technically call it my first book. I feel like the stuff I did for Harvey was like my art school, where I was still feeling things out, and trying to learn this medium a bit.
DW: What’s on the horizon for Ed Piskor and the future of comics?
EP: Future of comics? Who knows? I’ll always be doing them for print though. That I can promise. Right now, the Hip Hop Family Tree has taken over my life, and will be my main focus for a few years, at least. There’s interest from a bunch of the indy comics publishers, and some NYC book publishers, but, I’m terrible with commitment, so someones gonna have to make me an offer I can’t refuse so that I can finally decide on who’s logo will grace the cover. It’s such a fun project to produce too. Maybe I’ll do a kickstarter to put it together? I don’t know. The print component is still up in the air, but, it’s a definite part of the plan.
Written by Kevin Cortez
Illustrated by Estevan Sanchez