On the first day of Comic Con, Ed Piskor posted a photo of him standing next to Jurassic 5 emcee Chali 2na. The cartoonist's arm is around the rapper who's smiling and holding up a copy of Piskor's Hip-Hop Family Tree Volume Three.
This has a become a fairly common sight across the artist's social media over the past few year. Ever week or so, there's a new rapper proudly posing with a copy of the graphic hip-hop history book. For the cartoonist, it's a welcome, if sometimes awkward respite from the solitary act of writing and drawing a comic.
"It's the only time I get embarrassed," says Piskor. "You sit around in a room and you're working inside of a vacuum. It's bonkers. You deliver the files digitally. You're just hanging out in your house, doing your thing. A box of books shows up on you doorstep a couple of months after you send the final files."
Piskor, who had previously drawn the the hacker comic WYSIWYG for Top Shelf and collaborated with the legendary Harvey Pekar on one of his final works, The Beats, began serializing his ambitious music history comic weekly on the pop culture site Boing Boing.
"Their readership is like five million unique users per month, so someone who has a relationship with these rappers is bound to see it," Piskor explains. "A rapper will retweet a piece that's about him and it just grows. A couple of weeks ago, I did a strip about Ice Cube and how he met Dr. Dre. And that's the most popular strip because he shared that on a Throwback Thursday. It went bananas. The rappers do the promotion for me, and they're lending it some legitimacy."
The comic, which has since been collected by indie publisher Fantagraphics, is now on its third volume with at least three more to come, charting the history of rap from its birth in Bronx warehouses to its global cultural domination.
For Piskor, Hip-Hop Family Tree is about more than just songs and stories. "The music is actually incidental. I'm a fan of hip-hop. That's what got me through the door. But what really got me interested was the idea of world building. It's me slowly putting it back together and slow discovering along the way all of the essential moments that were required to make it a phenomenon."