September 9, 2013

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SPX Spotlight 2013: Fantagraphics and Ed Piskor's Hip Hop Family Tree


Welcome to another entry in the 2013 SPX Spotlight series!  For the next month, I'll be highlighting creators and publishers who will be at the best convention, the Small Press Expo.  You can check out all of my spotlights for SPX from both this year and prior years here.

Every year, I get ready to this post about Fantagraphics, and I wonder what I can add to everything that's already been said about them. The granddaddy of indie publishers is as strong as its ever been, putting out a wide rage of original comics and classic reprints from both the pages of the newspaper and pulp comics.

They're the place where you can find elite manga like Wandering Son (review here), the first-ever attempt to create a complete Peanuts collection (which is still ongoing), anthologies that helped build the careers of creators like Gabrielle Bell (such as Mome, a review of an issue here), brought international sensations like Jason to English (my list of Jason reviews here), and of course are the home of Robert Crumb, Johnny Ryan, and other members of the alt-comix crowd.

And hell, I realize I didn't even mention the Hernandez Brothers or the Ditko/Everett collections or that they're the folks behind The Comics Journal. Fantagraphics has seen all of the trends in indie comics and been a part of them all. They'll work with fairy tale-like books such as Castle Waiting as easily as they'd put together a collection of queer comics that push the envelope as far as it will go.

They are by far one of the best publishers out there, and it's no surprised that they took my top graphic novel spot in 2011 (with Michael Kupperman's Mark Twain's Autobiography 1910-2010, review here) and just missed out in 2012, with Noah Van Sciver's The Hypo.

Fantagraphics always pulls out all the stops for SPX, bringing with them everything they possibly can to the show. They'll have all of their 2013 releases currently available (you can find a complete list here), which is incredibly long in and of itself, plus evergreen titles like their Jason collections, work from creators who will be at the show (Peter Bagge, Kupperman, and Carol Tyler, just to name three), their Mickey Mouse and Peanuts reprints, and much, much more. It's like they bring their whole bookstore with them on the road!

For SPX, Fantagraphics will be debuting Ed Piskor's first volume in his history of hip hop and rap, Hip Hop Family Tree. Piskor will be at the show and signing at the Fantagraphics table, and if you are a fan of the genre, make sure you not only take a moment to talk with him, but you buy the book as well. Fantagraphics was kind enough to provide me with a copy of the book before the show, and I came away from it extremely impressed with its detail, care, and respect for the material.

Piskor is a Pittsburgher, so he gets props from me just for that connection. He gets his comics cred for being a collaborator with Harvey Pekor, working with him on Beats and other projects. He uses a very similar style to American Splendor in Hip Hop Family Tree, narrating in yellow boxes with black text and providing visuals that go along with the information being provided.

Piskor starts as close to the beginning as he's able to, based on extensive research that he notes at the end of the book. We open with DJ Kool Herc, who notes that people like certain drum beats, but they only last just long enough to start dancing to before the record moves on. He comes up with the idea of using two copies of the same record, skipping back and forth to keep a beat alive. Adding an MC to work the crowd while he worked on adjusting the sound, a new and extremely popular idea explodes onto the New York Music scene, as others (with names that will be familiar to even those who aren't big hip hop fans) start to try their hand at this new musical style that even by the early 1980s (when this book finishes) is only just beginning to move out and become a national phenomenon.

You can tell that Ed Piskor loves the music he's chronicling here. There is an immense amount of detail in the pages of this comic, as Piskor works to name just about every single person (right down to kids) who had a hand in the formation of Hip Hop music. In fact, if there's one knock on this history, it's that Piskor may have actually gone into almost too much detail. A casual fan could find themselves glazing over a bit as he details record deals, rap battles, and changing allegiances.

But if that's the worst sin you commit, you're doing something right. In the case of Piskor, there's plenty of things he's doing right. I love that the design of the book fake-ages it, making it feel like a Marvel comic of that time period being read by a collector, something the cover definitely evokes as well. But where Piskor really shines is in the variety of his character designs. I am not familiar with most of the people he portrays, so I have no idea how accurate the likenesses are. What I do know is that it was very easy for me to recognize folks in the story as they weaved in and out of the narrative because Piskor took the time to draw them differently, as well as giving them different verbal cadences.

A labor of love, Hip Hop Family Tree won't be for everyone. But if you like Piskor or hip hop and rap, make sure one of the first things you do is run to the Fantagraphics table and grab this one before it goes away. I have a feeling this could be a runaway hit at the show, depending on the musical preferences of the attendees, because it's simply an amazing work, showing just how powerful comics can be as an educational and historical tool.

In addition to Ed Piskor, Fantagraphics will also be hosting signings for the following artists:

  • Ed Piskor (Saturday 11am to 1pm, 3:30pm to 5pm Sunday 1:30pm to 3pm)
  • Michael Kupperman (Saturday 11am to 12:30 Sunday 3:30pm to 5pm)
  • Leslie Stein (Saturday 11am to 12:30 Sunday Noon to 1:30pm)
  • Janet Hamlin (Saturday 12:30 to 2:30pm) SATURDAY ONLY
  • Justin Hall (Saturday 12:30 to 1:30pm Sunday Noon to 1pm)
  • Carol Tyler (Saturday 1pm to 2pm, 6pm to 7pm Sunday 1pm to 2pm)
  • Chuck Forsman (Saturday 2pm to 4pm Sunday 5pm to 6pm)
  • Gary Panter (Saturday 2pm to 3pm Sunday 4pm to 5pm)
  • Dash Shaw (Saturday 2:30pm to 3:30pm Sunday 2pm to 3:30pm, 5pm to 6pm)
  • Ulli Lust (Saturday 3pm to 5pm Sunday 2pm to 4pm)
  • Paul Hornschemeier (Saturday 4pm to 7pm Sunday 1pm to 2pm)
  • Peter Bagge (Saturday 5pm to 6pm Sunday Noon to 1pm)
  • Ben Catmull (Saturday 5pm to 6pm Sunday 4pm to 6pm)
  • Marc Sobel (Saturday 6pm to 7pm Sunday 3pm to 4pm)

Whew!

Fantagraphics has a lot to offer comics fans of all kinds. Make sure you don't miss them when you attend SPX this year. I just about guarantee they have something for you!

Hip Hop you can't stop at SPX? Then go to Fantagraphics' website and buy some of their stuff.