May 4, 2015

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FCBD Spotlight: AJ McGuire on Hip Hop Family Tree 3 in 1


Fantagraphics offered a comic on FCBD that was a split between Ed Piskor's "Hip Hop Family Tree" and Dash Shaw's "Cosplayers".  I'm a “Hip Hop Family Tree” well-wisher because its a singular comics project unlike anything else and it is telling stories about people whose influence is still felt on today's pop culture but who in many cases have not received the recognition they deserve.  It's been met with wide acclaim and enthusiasm, been translated into multiple languages, and has gone into multiple reprintings.

My gripe with the comic is that at the glacial pace it is moving (Whodini, among others, will be covered in Volume 3 due later this year) it will be another 50 volumes before it reaches any rappers actually relevant today.  In one way that's fine because I suspect Ed Piskor doesn't have the same level of enthusiasm for Future and Fetty Wap as he does for the rappers of the golden age. But the great thing about rap music is that it is the only form of popular culture in which the weirdo, innovative artists are right there in the mainstream, and conversely the "underground" are often artistically conservative, backwards looking rappers rehashing the sounds of yesterday.  I can't help but feel that this comic plays into this conservative streak that contributes to people laughing at Young Thug and holding up Joell Ortiz as a savior of the artform.

Dash Shaw's contribution is 20 pages in his ongoing “Cosplayers” series.  Two young women find a box of comics and cut them up for a collage.  Later they are given issues of Jack Kirby's "2001 A Space Odyssey" by the proprietor of a comics store who had his eyes opened and life ripped apart by the comic.  The last page of the story is yellowed as if were a page from "2001" itself and has a collage with various pieces taken from "2001" cut and pasted on top of each other. Various celestial objects zoom around and Kirby krackle permeates underneath a Dash Shaw illustrated panel of the comic itself cut into pieces with word balloons indicating the comic itself speaking, "That's what wanted.  I wanted to be destroyed... and reborn."  As an anti-fetishization statement it’s both funny and suprisingly moving.

Dash Shaw's artificial yellowing on that one page mirrors the technique that Ed Piskor employs throughout "Hip Hop Family Tree" to make the comics appear as if they were actually created during the time period they are illustrating.  But it strikes me that there is a difference between a single page that shows the birth of something new through creative destruction and the celebration of something old with a false patina.