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Ed Piskor Interview

Wizzywig, Harvey Pekar, and The Hip Hop Family Tree


Ed Piskor Interview

Ed Piskor's Wizzywig

Top Shelf Productions
Ed Piskor first became really known to the world of comic books through his work with Harvey Pekar as the artist on two of his graphic novels. He later began self publishing Wizzywig, his tale of the rise of computer hacking and this gained the interest of Top Shelf Productions who is releasing the series in its entirety. I got a chance to conduct an interview with Ed to talk about hacking, hip hop, and his creative process.

Aaron Albert: The title of your latest graphic novel is Wizzywig. Where does that term come from? Is it related to the hacking world?

Ed Piskor: "Wizzywig" is the phonetic spelling for the acronym W.Y.S.I.W.Y.G, which stands for "what you see is what you get". A term of computer jargon. It's the difference between the old, DOS, text based computer operating systems, and the ones that you and I use now, with windows, images, point and click, etc.

I liked Wizzywig as the title for my comic, because it seems perfectly applicable to the story. I laid everything out in a "just the facts, ma'am", kind of fashion, and then the onus is on the reader to decide how they feel, based on the information I supply.

Wizzywig seemed quite accurate in its representation of the history of hacking and phone phreaking. How much research went into the creation of this comic? What drew your interest into the world of hackers?

It's almost like I'm a "method cartoonist" if there is such a thing. I get incredibly obsessed with different areas that I find interesting and I can't help but fully immerse myself in that world. I started by listening to over 1000 hours of radio archives, for 14 months while drawing a graphic novel with Harvey Pekar. This material filled my brain up with verboten knowledge and pointed me in plenty of directions to continue pursuing more. I'm curiosity and interest is always sparked whenever I have the opportunity to learn about things that I'm not supposed to, so the hacking world was a logical fit.

It seems that the project that I've been gravitating toward are stories that literally no other cartoonist is equipped to tell, in terms of knowledge on a particular subject.

Have you had any feedback from the actual hacking community?

I've made some great friends within the hacker world. Everybody I've referenced has introduced themselves and hasn't complained about anachronistic details or any of the unimportant details.

How did the creation of Wizzywig come about? As I understand it, the comic was released digitally first correct? Talk about the road to getting published at Top Shelf.

At first I was self publishing books of Wizzywig on my own. 3 of them came out. One a year. Each 2 chapters of the Top shelf book were their own individual volume, and the last 2 chapters of the new book are brand new. I grew a lot as a writer while working on this project on an "on again off again" basis, between paying projects, so when I decided to start putting the material online, I pretty much completely, rewrote the existing material before finishing off the story. From day 1, Brett Warnock (copublisher at Top Shelf) was interested in compiling the book when it was finished. It just took me forever to get it done.

Being close to the age of your character Kevin “Boingthump” Fenicle, I really resonated with his discovery of technology growing up as mine had similar elements. I remember trading Commodore 64 games and files like mad, very similar to today’s trading cards. What was your childhood with technology like? Did that help inspire the comic?

I am from the ghetto, pure and simple, and it was impossible to even think about owning a computer. I think that's how it inspired my interest. It was romantic, and elusive.

The first computer I had was a box with Windows 98 on it. And the first time I touched an iPhone was when I was invited to a technology conference to talk about Wizzywig.

What do you think of hacking and hackers in general?

I think hackers are of paramount importance in our evolution as a civilization, in every way. Someone who figures out how to get us better gas mileage in cars will be a hacker, and the person who created those little green bags to make vegetables last longer is a hacker.

You got your start working with the great Harvey Pekar. How did that come about?

I just sent dumb comics I did to every cartoonist that I respected, and who's address I could find. I found Harv's address in the back of an American Splendor comic and just kept sending him strips as part of a routine. After the movie came out, he gave me a call, and it was pretty surreal.

Your art style really seems that have that autobiographical feel to it found in artists like Crumb and Pekar. Did working with Pekar stream your style that way even more or were you working in that mode for some time? How did you develop your personal art style?

I'm not very good at judging my art in this way that you ask. I definitely can't explain how my art style developed either, to be honest. One thing I can say is that I feel like Wizzywig is my first actual book. The stuff I did with Harvey, I feel like, was a kind of art school to me. I had so much to learn and figure out. I think I started working with Harvey after doing 10 serious pages of my own comics, so I had, and still have, a lot of dues to pay.

How do you see digital comics influencing the world of comics in the future?

I don't think it's necessary to think about the whole business of comics on some sort of cosmic level. I think cartoonists each operate their own business and really don't have the same pressures that would have existed, pre-internet, in terms of distribution. We're probably moving more toward that model of cultivating your 1000 hardcore fans for sustainability, rather than trying to become millionaires with huge audiences. There's ton of good material out there and not nearly enough space or cash to store it all, so maybe that's where digital comes into play most?

What I can say is that the work that I do, has a purpose, and end goal, of being a tangible, touch and feel, paper book. The digital component is either a first draft or a subsequent draft, but will probably never be the exact printed work. It's a great opportunity to test ideas, thanks to the low overhead.

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