5 Questions with Ed Piskor

hip family tree 1Today’s edition of 5 Questions features cartoonist Ed Piskor, who will be celebrating the release of Hip Hop Family Tree Vol. 1-2: 1975-1983 Gift Box Set (Fantagraphics), a collected edition of his exciting and ongoing graphic history of Hip Hop.

Event: Thursday, November 20 @ 7PM at City Lights. Ed Piskor celebrates the release of the gift edition of Hip Hop Family Tree Vol. 1-2.

To celebrate the resounding critical and commercial success of the first two volumes of Ed Piskor’s unprecedented history of Hip Hop, the fabulous folks at Fantagraphics are offering the two books in a mind-blowingly colorful slipcase, drawn and designed by the artist, featuring exclusive all-new cover art on each volume. As if that’s not enough, in addition to the two books and the slipcase itself, Piskor has drawn a 24-page comic book—Hip Hop Family Tree #300—specifically for this boxed set that elegantly reflects the confluence of hip hop and comics, which was never more apparent in the early 1990s than with the famous Spike Lee-directed Levi Jeans commercial starring Rob Liefeld, who went on to create Youngblood and co-found Image Comics, not to mention ending up on the radar of gangster rapper Eazy E. Piskor tells this story as a perfect parody/pastiche/homage to ’90s Image comics.

About the Book: Originally serialized on the hugely popular website Boing Boing, Hip Hop Family Tree is now collected in a single volume cleverly presented and packaged in a style mimicking the Marvel comics of the same era. Piskor’s exuberant yet controlled cartooning takes you from the parks and rec rooms of the South Bronx to the night clubs, recording studios, and radio stations where the scene started to boom, capturing the flavor of late-1970s New York City in panels bursting with obsessively authentic detail. With a painstaking, vigorous and engaging Ken Burns-meets-Stan Lee approach, the battles and rivalries, the technical innovations, the triumphs and failures are all thoroughly researched and lovingly depicted.

hip hop family tree 2Piskor captures the vivid personalities and magnetic performances of old-school pioneers and early stars like DJ Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, the Funky 4 + 1, Afrika Bambaataa, Kurtis Blow, The Sugarhill Gang, and three kids who would later become RUN-DMC, plus the charismatic players behind the scenes like Russell Simmons, Sylvia Robinson and then-punker Rick Rubin. Piskor also traces graffiti master Fab 5 Freddy’s rise in the art world, and Debbie Harry, Keith Haring, The Clash, and other luminaries make cameos as the music and culture begin to penetrate downtown Manhattan and the mainstream at large.

Like the acclaimed hip hop documentaries Style Wars and Scratch, Hip Hop Family Tree is an exciting and essential cultural chronicle and a must for hip hop fans, pop-culture addicts, and anyone who wants to know how it went down back in the day.

About the Author: Ed Piskor is an alternative cartoonist living and drawing out of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He is a former student of The Kubert School and is best known for his artistic collaboration with underground comics pioneers Harvey Pekar, his graphic novel Wizzywig, and his blockbuster series Hip Hop Family Tree. Piskor is revered for his combination of golden age drawing style and smart storytelling. The Washington Post once said that “Piskor is able to render a world that resonates as truth.” Currently, he is knee deep in drawing the next book in the Hip Hop Family Tree five-volume series.

City Lights: If you’ve been to City Lights before, what’s your memory of the visit?

Ed Piskor: I’ve never been to City Lights, but I know the reputation of the store and I’m expecting to visit the coolest bookstore in America from all accounts I’ve received from friends and acquaintances.

CL: If your book had a soundtrack, what would it be?

EP: My book’s do have a distinct soundtrack. The first volume of HHFT should be read listening to classic funk records of the 70’s, James Brown, and the hip hop records of 1979-1981.

Book 2, you’ll need to listen to Hip Hop tracks of 1981-1983, New Edition, Tom Tom Club, and the earliest iteration of New Kids on the Block.

CL: What’s the first book you actually finished reading?

EP: Oh jeez. I guess my favorite books as a kid were the Boxcar Children series.

CL: If you weren’t a writer, what might you do?

EP: If I wasn’t a cartoonist, I would be a loser 🙂

CL: Name a few things you’d require if stranded on a desert island for an undefined period of time (and, yes, no Wi-Fi).

EP: “Give me a cool buzz, some tasty waves and I’ll be fine.”–Jeff Spicolli (Fast Times at Ridgemont High)


For more about Ed Piskor, check out his official site. The holidays are a good time to buy Hip Hop Family Tree for that early 80’s hip hop fan you know. For more about the event and other great readings happening at City Lights Books, go here.


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