Hip-hop pioneers get treated like Marvel Comics superheroes — each with his own auspicious origin story, and his own foibles — in volume 2 of Ed Piskor's docu-comic Hip Hop Family Tree (Fantagraphics).
The Pittsburgh-based artist's grittily over-the-top style, full of fun and brimming with Jack Kirby references, has gone over big: Vol. 1, which covered the birth of rap and other hip-hop culture, is on its third printing. It was a New York Times bestseller and is out in German and Japanese versions. The 112-page Vol. 2 covers 1981-83, starting with rap's first commercial success outside the South Bronx.
On pages "aged" and inked to look period-appropriate: Uptown definitively meets Downtown; "The Message" is heard; Afrikaa Bambataa releases Planet Rock; Run-DMC gets it together; punk rockers The Beastie Boys get ideas; and dozens of little-remembered but important players get their due. The book chronicles the development of beat-boxing, street art and breakdancing, plus the advent of the drum machine. Piskor also offers a winning sequence on the making of seminal hip-hop film Wild Style (including pirated Con Ed electrons) and his account of the origins of West Coast rap, featuring Ice-T and a teenaged Dr. Dre.
Piskor's gestural vocabulary perhaps could grow, with a few too many clenched fists to signify anger or defiance. But overall, this second in a planned six-volume series is as impassioned and wickedly entertaining as it is informative (complete with index, discography and bibliography).
Epic in a different way is Top of the Line, Daniel McCloskey's series of eight hand-made mini-comics about a young man in a post-apocalyptic society. It starts crazy — with wild animals that seem to have evolved from power tools — and gets crazier. Most of the fantasy/science-fiction elements are explained eventually, sort of, but McCloskey doesn't spell out more than necessary.
Top of the Line's plot trades on am urban/rural class divide, mythic overtones, a high action quotient and primitive and high-tech devices deployed cheek-by-jowl. It's maybe Star Wars crossed with a Hunger Games-like dystopia, except with carnivorous, elephant-sized monsters and more humor than you might expect amidst the general darkness. The drawing style is jagged and explosive, the storyline sometimes a bit obscure.
McCloskey, who founded the Cyberpunk Apocalypse writers' collective, is asking $2.99 each for these black-and-white booklets; the finale, in color, costs $8.