Wednesday, June 7, 2017


FANTAGRAPHICS BOOKS – @fantagraphics

[This review was originally posted on Patreon.]

EDITOR: Eric Reynolds
32pp, Color, $3.99 U.S. (August 2015)

“Birth of a New Culture!!”

Cartoonist Ed Piskor combined his two great loves, comic books and Hip Hop, and began chronicling the history of Hip Hop culture and rap music.  This was done in the form of a webcomic, Hip Hop Family Tree, which he as been serializing in weekly installments at the website, Boing Boing ( since January 2012.  This is the history of Hip Hop as told through comics – the who, what, when, and where of a culture and music that, from the beginning, refused to be marginalized and relegated to the ash bin of history by its haters.

Fantagraphics Books first collected Hip Hop Family Tree in print in a graphic novel format with Hip Hop Family Tree Vol. 1: 1970s-1981 (December 2013), the first of three volumes, with a fourth nearly published (to date).  In the summer of 2015, Fantagraphics began reprinting the contents of the graphic novels as a monthly comic book series (the first monthly comic book in the company's four-decade history).

Hip Hop Family Tree #1 (“Birth of a New Culture!!”) reprints contents published in Hip Hop Family Tree Vol. 1: 1970s-1981.  Welcome to the very beginnings of Hip-Hop.  See the DJs, starting with DJ Kool Herc, who gave birth to a new music and culture in the tenement recreational rooms of the south Bronx in the 1970s.

A Bronx-based party DJ, Herc discovers that during his show, the audience really likes the instrumental “breaks” in the records.  An experimenter, Herc uses loops and mixing to extend the breaks and soon a talented core of other DJs begin to build upon the foundation that Herc develops.  Soon, emcees (or MCs) are “rapping” over the breaks and a new culture is born.  Also, pioneers Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaataa appear and see the man who invented the term, “hip-hop.”

I first heard about Hip Hop Family Tree in a press release I received from Fantagraphics Books.  I immediately knew that I wold be interested in reading it.  Hip Hop Family Tree is an excellent example of the comics medium as journalism, biography, and history  Hip Hop Family Tree as a comic book is a marriage made in heaven because both comics culture and Hip Hop culture are born of outside art forms.

Creator Ed Piskor’s vintage graphic design style, compositions, and graphical storytelling (complete with Zip-A-Tone and brown paper texture), gives Hip Hop Family Tree that distinctive 1970s comic book look.  His work has a dated feel, which is not a bad thing.  This striking visual and graphic aesthetic makes Hip Hop Family Tree look like a vintage, low-wattage documentary from the 1970s, while giving it the timeless sparkle and sense of fun that comic books (even old comics) have.

Hip Hop Family Tree #1 often reads like a college freshmen history essay written the night before its due.  It is all over the place and jumps from one historical figure and/or place to the next, but this is right process for the subject.  The history of Hip Hop is fast and furious; who did what and when is not always clear and agreed upon.  This is a story, and the story of Hip Hop is like a comic book story – brash and bold and against all the other proper and serious storytelling mediums (like novels, stage drama, poetry, etc.).  Do your thing and break the rules.  The fathers and mothers of Hip Hop did it their way and so does Hip Hop Family Tree.

Hip Hop Family Tree the monthly comic book offers new covers and splash pages drawn especially for the series.  Ed Piskor also presents a “director's commentary” that sights sources for the history of Hip Hop and also gives details on his motivations and processes and also on the research involved in creating each page.


Reviewed by Leroy Douresseaux a.k.a. "I Reads You"

The text is copyright © 2016 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this blog for reprint and syndication rights and fees.


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