Every Tuesday for over a year now, Pittsburgh resident Ed Piskor has been adding to an increasingly complex archive, telling the tale of hip hop from DJ Kool Herc onward, including an ever growing flowchart of nearly all its innovators, influences and important participants. He does this by penning, illustrating and digitally inking his webcomic, Hip Hop Family Tree.
His subject matter is well researched, pulling from documentary and historical footage, books and interviews, then compiling what is known into a weekly story, with some occasional artistic license thrown in for good measure when needed. However, his overall goals seem to include both accuracy and increased awareness, having already gotten props from the likes of Chuck D, Fab Five Freddy and Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five.
And this does not look like your typical webcomic. In fact it doesn’t look like any comic due to its educational and authentic nature, in addition to its wide reaching scope. The look and style is that somewhat reminiscent of R. Crumb but also pulls from the traditional four color format of superhero comics, down to the yellowed newsprint paper and colors being grabbed from such iconic hues as Superman’s cape. Piskor cites DC Comics’ 1978 issue Superman vs. Muhammad Ali as an early hip hop comic crossover due in part to the fact that Ali won.
So far the actual comic does a fine job of following a rough chronology, building off of what is already established and explaining who these people are and their contributions while still being comprehensive and yet easy to follow.
According to interviews the artist has done with the site that hosts Hip Hop Family Tree: Boing Boing, as well as About.com, Columbus Museum of Art, International Design Times, MTV Hive and Reglar Wiglar, among others, he plans to make upwards of six hundred pages worth (saying it may take up to a decade to complete), going as far as showing the deaths of Tupac and Biggie or at least the last episode of Yo! MTV Raps, though he has also thought about stopping as early as Wu-Tang and Illmatic.
(Note: The weekly family tree itself is included in a separate folder within the download, though it is missing a few pages. That is because either nobody new was added that week and / or the wrong photo was uploaded to the site, meaning this collection is as complete as it can be as of this posting.)
If you like what you see, a physical copy including illustrations by other artists and a bibliography will be included in the first volume of Hip Hop Family Tree (of which there will be at least four others), which’ll be released sometime before Christmas this year. The project is available for pre-order now.