Originally serialized at Boing Boing, Hip Hop Family Tree, Volume 1 follows the "viral propagation of a culture." The narrative starts in the late 1970s in the Bronx and covers a large swath of events and figures. One of the great features of the large page format is that the riff on traditional Marvel Treasury Editions includes some rough paper and old-school coloring that makes the rappers and moguls appear as larger than life figures like superheroes. And there is a multitude of colorful characters in here, including graffiti artists, beat boxers, luminaries like Rick Rubin, Run DMC, Russell Simmons, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, and Kurtis Blow; record companies like Sugar Hill Records, radio DJs, and club owners.
|Image found at the Columbus Museum of Art|
One of my favorite parts of the online version is its inclusion of specific songs highlighted in every episode. Although that feature does not accompany the book, the fine folks at Stumptown Trade Review have a 4 hour playlist of many of the artists and songs featured in the book here.
Accomplished creator Ed Piskor has done lots of nonfiction comics in the past, including working on American Splendor and a biography of The Beats with Harvey Pekar. Even his hacker book Wizzywig, which I absolutely loved, was based on reality. He is an excellent researcher and deft artist, and his imagery is an excellent combination of reality and super-expressive, cartoonish comics. Piskor manages to capture grit, enterprise, power, and frivolity with his pictures, but with his words he also does a sort of comic rapping, incorporating snippets of lyrics and song titles into his dialogue as well as setting up visual imagery and foreshadowing future events. This does not come off as too clever or cute but adds to the vitality of the narratives. I found this book to be a marvel of ingenuity and a testament to his great skills as a comics creator. He speaks more about his influences, career, and work on this book in this interview. He also spoke at length with Tom Spurgeon here.
All of the reviews I have read online about this book have been glowing. Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review and called it "a massive undertaking, but Piskor succeeds mightily in chronicling hip-hop’s formative years with riveting detail." Win Wiacek called it "cool, informative and irresistible" as well as "wild fun and deliciously addictive."
Hip Hop Family Tree, Volume 1 is available from Fantagraphics. They provide a preview and much more here. You can also read most if not all of the comics online at Boing Boing. Piskor is still doing new entries in the series and reportedly will keep going for 5 volumes, until he reaches the time period his interest in rap music waned in the early 1990s.
On a side note, I met Ed Piskor this past summer at HeroesCon, and pre-ordered this book. He was an incredibly smart and polite man, and I am glad to show off the sketch he drew in my copy.