Wednesday, September 5, 2012
Kevin Phenicle is a slight, nerdy adolescent who gets picked on by his peers and who lives with his grandmother. He does not look like much of a threat to anyone. But as "Boingthump," Kevin gets into all kinds of mischief and mayhem. He copies and sells pirate versions of popular computer games. He scams the phone company so he can make all kinds of free calls. He gains access to classified databases. He rigs phones so he wins radio station contests. He invents computer viruses and worms. As a hacker, he finds himself the target of FBI sting operations, ends up imprisoned multiple times, and spends much of his life on the run from the authorities.
Boingthump is a fictional amalgam of a character, with attributes of many famous hackers. He is based mainly on former fugitives Kevin Mitnick and Kevin Poulsen, but he also runs some famous scams perpetrated by legends like Cap'n Crunch, Captain Zap, and Phiber Optik. He even gets credited for an infamous TV jamming scheme. Although Boingthump perpetrates many criminal acts, he appears as a sympathetic figure in this book. It is difficult not to root for him when it seems he is really trying to infiltrate and hoodwink monolithic authorities. Having the support of a friendly radio DJ advocate helps make him seem less unsavory, as does the stark contrasts with an oily TV newsman who capitalizes on Boingthump's notoriety and the thuggish figures who antagonize him, embodied by federal agents and prison inmates.
The contents of this book first appeared serialized as a webcomic, which is still available online. Creator Ed Piskor is best known for multiple collaborations with Harvey Pekar on American Splendor as well as The Beats: A Graphic History. A prolific modern creator whose style is reminiscent of underground comix, he is currently working on a Hip Hop Family Tree webcomic. Piskor talks more about his work on this graphic novel in this interview with IFC.
This book definitely has much to add to the discussion about the benefits and drawbacks of technology hacking. Reviews of it I have read have been very positive. Wired Magazine's Steven Levy called this story "a delight, wryly rendered and packed with dead-on details of the hacker life." Comics Should Be Good's Sonia Harris wrote that "the book is beautiful, a lovely experience to read, made with much love and attention to detail" and well worth buying. The Onion's A.V. Club Comic Panel concluded that Piskor's "passion for the subject jumps off the page, making Wizzywig both an entertaining read and a powerful argument-starter."
A preview and more can be found here from the book's publisher Top Shelf.