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WonderCon 2018: Ed Piskor Conversation

Ed Piskor is a comic book artist and writer known for his anthology Hip Hop Family Tree, a comic book version of the history of Hip Hop and Rap that often borrows the tropes and visual style of mainstream comics. He recently began working on a project with Marvel Comics to tell the complete story of the X-Men in chronological order. X-Men: Grand Design is being published as a series of normal size comic book issues and then collected in large-scale “Treasury” size books. He was a guest of WonderCon 2018 in Anaheim on Sunday and during a spotlight panel discussed his career and approach to making comics.

WonderCon - Ed Piskor

Piskor spent a large portion of the panel talking about the progression of his career, from the early days of his fandom of comics through school and professional comic book work. Piskor was familiar and liked comic books that he would see on the newsstand and grocery stores. These were primarily Marvel and DC Comics and what he knew for a long time. At some point, he happened to catch on cable a documentary called Comic Book Confidential (made in 1988 by Ron Mann). This document about comic books is a bit unusual in that it covers all types of comic books, so it discussed everything from Stan Lee and Jack Kirby to R. Crumb and Will Eisner. Piskor claimed that many of his lifelong influences came from that documentary, showing him a wider range of comics, including underground comix, than just Marvel and DC.

He was drawn to the independent and DIY spirit of alternative comics and decided that he wanted to make his own comics and do it all himself. He worked hard on drawing his own comics, through middle and high school, but he was aware that there were some areas in which he was deficient as an artist, having been entirely self-trained. So Piskor made it a goal to attend the Joe Kubert School of Comic Art (which was often advertised in comic books) in order to learn more about illustration. Piskor said that although he did learn a great deal of practical skills during his first year there, he felt like the only approach to illustration he was being taught in 2000 was very old fashioned and did not reflect the use of computers and technology, tools that were already becoming essential to the industry. As such, Piskor left the school after the first year before finishing because he felt that he had learned all he could there and he didn’t want to go further into debt for the expensive tuition.

HHFT #12 - Ed Piskor

Piskor was working a day-job and submitting work to many publishers, anthologies, and artists. One of the artists he sent to was Harvey Pekar, whose long career was hitting a new level as a movie about his life was in production (the film American Splendor, starring Paul Giamatti as Pekar came out in 2003). Pekar was very busy and asked Piskor to work with him on a project. Piskor worked for a number of years with Pekar, on “American Splendor” strips and book projects on Macedonia and The Beat Generation. This lead to his first comic called Wizzywig (a realistic account of computer hacking). A number of tech bloggers became fans of Wizzywig, and Piskor started developing a following.

Piskor’s experience with Wizzywig made him see that there were subject areas that were not be explored by comics and he wanted to fill some of those spaces. So he began working on Hip Hop Family Tree, which became his breakout work. It started as a serialized strip on tech blog Boing Boing (who wanted to work with him because of Wizzywig). HHFT was originally going to be a short-lived concept, but it immediately caused a stir. Piskor saw this and decided to keep it going, to seize on the momentum he had. Piskor worked on these strips for four and a half years, eventually yielded four collected books, published by Fantagraphic Books.

X-Men Grand Design Piskor

Following the success of HHFT, Piskor casually put a post on social media saying that Marvel should let him do an X-Men series. To his surprise, Piskor heard back within the hour from Marvel’s then Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso, asking Piskor to pitch something. Undaunted, Piskor told Alonso that he had an idea for taking the first 300 issues of Uncanny X-Men and distill it down into a 240-page story. This became X-Men: Grand Design. The first four 40-page single issues of X-Men: Grand Design were/will be published in late 2017 and in 2018. These will be collected into two large books. Piskor said that it takes him six months to do each issue (since he is writing, drawing, coloring and lettering the book all himself). When the project is complete in late 2019 or early 2020, there will be six single issues, also encompassed in three books. Piskor wants this to be his quintessential X-Men book that can stand the test of time. X-Men: Grand Design is a very ambitious project, and it was very interesting to hear about its origin and the evolution of Piskor’s career.  


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