On Aug. 3, Fantagraphics published Book 4 of Ed Piskor’s graphic history Hip Hop Family Tree. In comics, where self-publishing is common and most artists never get one full-color volume on a major publisher, four in three years is a very big deal.
Still, those of us outside comics might not grasp how large and in charge Munhall resident Piskor has become with his vibrant, gritty and painstakingly researched portrait of the rise of hip hop, and the many characters who made it happen. The series, which debuted in 2013, has been critically hailed by everyone from Vice and Paste to NPR and Comic Book Resources — not to mention many of the hip-hop artists it depicts. Book 1, a New York Times best-seller, is in its sixth printing. Translations have been licensed in Japanese, German, French, Portuguese, Italian and Russian.
Fantagraphics, a leading independent-comics publisher that’s home to such stars as Chris Ware and Daniel Clowes. “Ed is our biggest breakout star of this decade,” writes Fantagraphics associate publisher Eric Reynolds via email.
The series has changed its creator’s life: While he’s been cartooning full time for years, Piskor says, “The hip-hop comic is popular enough that I’m able to design my career.” (Other bennies: getting to design, for his Japanese publisher, Presspop, new action figures of his all-time favorite group, Public Enemy.)
Accolades for Piskor include last year’s coveted Eisner Award for best reality-based work, for HHFT Book 2. This year, he’s in mad demand as a speaker. In September alone, after an appearance at the Small Press Expo (SPX), in Maryland, he’ll speak at the Library of Congress’ National Book Festival, the country’s largest such fest. SPX executive director Warren Bernard calls HHFT “one of the finest pieces of graphic-novel history that’s ever been done.”
Piskor’s fellow Pittsburgh-based comics artist Frank Santoro goes further. Santoro, also a critic, is internationally known for his comics, but he says that commercially and artistically, Piskor has reached another level entirely. “He’s now the most dominant player in the game [that] I’ve ever seen,” says Santoro. “Ed has just gone above and beyond what has been thought possible.”