Unbeknownst to most, Pittsburgh is home to a vibrant independent comics scene. With over 7 comics shops in the city and the Toonseum, a museum wholly dedicated to celebrating animation and comics, you can be sure that there are a lot of comics aficionados in town. And, with homegrown comics anthologies like Andromeda and Unicorn Mountain, alongside independent comics giants like Jim Rugg, Frank Santoro and Tom Scioli, you can be sure that there’s a lot of ink hitting the page in the city.
In the midst of this vibrant community, you’ve got the inkstud, Ed Piskor. A workhorse of a cartoonist, Piskor is an artist that in the past 7 years has been making great strides in the world of professional comics, opening the medium of storytelling to new audiences. Thanks to a range of stories about the passions and politics of hackers, the reflections on life from Cleveland and the borderline biblical history of Hip Hop culture, Ed Piskor is a curious storyteller.
Ed Piskor was born in the city of Homestead, Pennsylvania in 1982. Growing up, money was tight but pencils and paper were easy to come by. Determined to pursue a future in comics, after highschool he made his way to the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art, where he studied the ins and outs of comics creation.
He has been cartooning professionally in print form since 2005. He made his inroads to the world of professional publication by collaborating as an illustrator with Harvey Pekar for his American Splendor comics. The collaboration between the two continued as they worked on two subsequent graphic novels, Macedonia, the story about the travels of peace activist, Heather Roberson to Macedonia, and The Beats, the story of the generation that stood in the face of mainstream American conformity and conservatism.
After that collaborative work, Piskor began to focus on solo work, writing, penciling, lettering and inking his comics himself. As a cartoonist, Piskor has found a writing style that immediately finds unique audiences. His recent works, Wizzywig, the story of Kevin “Boingthump” Phenicle, a young prodigy who becomes fascinated with social engineering, phone phreaking, and eventually computer hacking, and Brain Rot are notable contemporary comics because they have engaged audiences outside of the traditional comics reading demographics.
While Piskor created Wizzywig, he would regularly post the story online to read for folks to check out his work and to get up to date with where he was in thes story. The work really caught on with technophiles and Piskor was suddenly getting invited to technology conventions technology and getting the opportunity to speak at hackerspaces.
More recently, Hip Hop Family Tree segment of the Brain Rot series published on boingboing.net has been developing a highly interactive online fan base. For example last week Chuck D of Public Enemy retweeted the comic which yielded hundreds of emails in Ed’s inbox within a two hour period. In that same vein, Piskor was recently contacted by DJ Disco Wiz, one of the early DJs inspired by Kool Herc. Disco Wiz got in touch with Piskor because Piskor had depicted a historic incident during the blackout and loots of 1977. Although a little known figure in the history of Hip Hop, here was this underground figure getting in touch with Piskor via facebook.
When asked why he began working on the sprawling project that is the Hip Hop Family Tree, Piskor laughed and explained that the comics were just an excuse to put the family tree flowchart together. When asked about what it was that was so interesting to him about this musical history Piskor said, ” If you really get into the old records and the music from the beginning, throughout the years you can draw these very clear lines between each generation. It is almost like the bible. Grandmaster Flash begat Grandmaster Melle Mel, Kool Herc begat Dj Disco Wiz… and so on.”
Piskor is often asked what kind of research he does for his stories based on history. To these questions he responds seriously that “to say research, makes the work seem like a homework assignment.” As he sees it, the truth is that he has been building on his memory bank of knowledge since he was a kid. If he has to delve further than his own knowledge in order to fully tell a story, he never sees it as “researching” but rather as “reading for pleasure”.
In his own words, when asked about his work ethic, he said “I feel like a slacker if I’m not working constantly.”
To keep himself drawing, he has been making sure to constantly incorporate his passions with whatever his current project is, personal or professional. For example, when he became curious about the worlds of verboten information, hacking, and breaking systems, he wanted to delve deep into them so as to understand the nuts and bolts. In order to justify the time and energy needed to reach this level of comprehension, he had to make Wizzywig, a 300 page comic.
Although his approaches to the creative process might seem extreme and obsessive, thanks to his tireless work in communicating his learnings through comics, his readers have portals into the the curious worlds that Piskor relishes exploring.