If you were to pick up volume one of Ed Piskor’s critically acclaimed comic series, Hip Hop Family Tree, flip it over, and examine the graffiti tagged on the subway cars rolling in the background, you may notice a familiar, green character adorning one of the sliding doors: Razzberry, the lizard from Cheech Wizard, and the creation of counterculture cartoonist, Vaughn Bodē, who played an important role in influencing the lettering and iconography of early street artists in the 1970s.
Such is the attention to authenticity Piskor pours into his richly detailed and thoroughly researched series–he only includes anecdotes if he can find “corroborating evidence,” he stresses. This diligence earned the Pittsburgh native an Eisner Award for “Best Reality-Based Work” at Comic-con on Friday, for his work on Hip Hop Family Tree, vol. 2.
On Sunday, Piskor gave a presentation exploring the influence of comic artists like Bodē, Jack Kirby, and Dave Simms on graffiti greats like Iz the Wiz, Blade, and DONDI: “Graffiti culture definitely is where my head was when I came up with the impetus for Hip Hop Family Tree. He also revealed a dizzying number of visual nods to comic influences he subtly includes–or, as he puts it, “swipes unapologetically”–in Family Tree, such as cover designs homaging EC Comics’ Tales from the Crypt, and an editor page in the style of Dick Tracy’s Rogue Gallery. Considering Piskor spent a week recreating a period-appropriate color palette, going so far as to include the specs of mold one would find growing on the ink of a wilting, 40 year-old comic book, it becomes quite obvious Family Trees’ roots run deep. Even the intentionally large page size of the printed books is a decision rife with meaning; in the largely African American neighborhood of Piskor’s youth, the only comic book all his friend’s families were certain to own was the oversized Superman vs. Muhammad Ali one-off (SPOILER ALERT: Ali wins).
In acknowledging, but brushing off, the sub-genre of rapper-endorsed comics that feature their likenesses in superhero or villain roles, Piskor said, “It’s my belief that the true life stories of these people are incredibly more interesting than these silly fictionalizations. We take our own lives for granted.”
Hip Hop Family Tree, vol. 3 will comes out in August, and the series will also become Fantagraphics’ first monthly release (marketed as “nickel-bags”). Overall, Piskor intends to produce six volumes of Family Tree, with the storylines never extending beyond the 1980s. If, however, he completes the six planned volumes, and still feels inspired to explore the subject further, he is willing to consider an extension: “It could become my life’s work.” It may also become a TV show, as Piskor revealed to the Washington Post over the weekend, the property has been optioned.
Nerdist Music had the opportunity to speak with Piskor about the project in detail. You can read our stellar interview HERE.